Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2014


The U.S. Department of Energy's (USDOE) Savannah River Site (SRS) is a former nuclear weapon material production and current research facility adjacent to the Savannah River in South Carolina, USA. The purpose of this study was to determine the background radiocesium (137Cs) body burden (e.g., from global fallout) for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) inhabiting the SRS. To differentiate what the background burden is for the SRS versus 137Cs obtained from SRS nuclear activities, data were analyzed spatially, temporally and compared to other off-site hunting areas near the SRS. The specific objectives of this study were: to compare SRS and offsite deer herds based on time and space; to interpret comparisons based on how data were collected as well as the effect of environmental and anthropogenic influences; to determine what the ecological half-life/decay rate is for 137Cs in the SRS deer herd; and to give a recommendation to what should be considered the background 137Cs level in the SRS deer herd. Based on the available information and analyses, it is recommended that the determination of what is considered background for the SRS deer herd be derived from data collected from the SRS deer herd itself and not offsite collections for a variety of reasons. Offsite data show extreme variability most likely due to environmental factors such as soil type and land-use patterns (e.g., forest, agriculture, residential activities). This can be seen fromresultswhere samples from offsite military bases (Fort Jackson and Fort Stewart) without anthropogenic 137Cs sources were much higher than both the SRS and a nearby (Sandhills) study site. Moreover, deer from private hunting grounds have the potential to be baited with corn, thus artificially lowering their 137Cs body burdens compared to other freeranging deer. Additionally, sample size for offsite collections were not robust enough to calculate a temporal decay curve with an upper confidence level to determine if the herds are following predicted radioactive decay rates like the SRS or if the variability is due to those points described above. Using mean yearly values, the ecological half-life for 137Cs body burdens for SRS white-tailed deer was determined to be 28.79 years— very close to the 30.2 years physical half-life.

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