Some came seeking job opportunities. Some came to learn more about measures meant to keep nuclear waste from polluting the environment.
And some treated information sessions Monday about the Savannah River Site like a happy hour for deep thoughts.
"We're getting an intellectual cocktail," said Bob Weiderhorn of Sun City Hilton Head, a retired chemical engineer who was among the 20 or people who attended the seminars at Beaufort High School to learn about the site's projects, programs and missions.
SRS officials have conducted similar sessions in Aiken and Barnwell, near the Savannah River Site in Aiken.
Contamination of the Savannah River has been a long-standing concern for Beaufort residents, many of whom rely on water pulled from the river by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority. The river is the main source of water for BJWSA, which serves more than 150,000 customers in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
SRS is located in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties along the Savannah River. It was built during the 1950s to refine nuclear materials for nuclear weapons and is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Four classes, about 45 minutes each, ran concurrently, then were repeated. Attendees could sit in on two each. Topics were:
- Nuclear materials management.
- Waste management.
- Environmental monitoring and restoration.
- The Savannah River national laboratory.
U.S. Department of Energy site spokesman Jim Giusti said the programs aim to educate the public on what's happening at the site, including the containment and cleanup of past problems and prevention of future ones.
"We're conscious that people use the Savannah River as a drinking source, so we're very careful that by the time our creeks get to the Savannah River, the water meets drinking quality standards," he said.
Wiederhorn said his interest is twofold. He retired from DuPont chemical company and his final job included site cleanup. His grandson now works in waste management at SRS.
Pam Weidner of Beaufort Engineering Services Inc. said she wants to keep on top of potential job opportunities for her architectural and engineering firm.
"Since they've come to the Beaufort region, it's much easier to find out about the facility and what they're doing than to travel up there," she said.
Warren Slesinger of Beaufort has taken master naturalist classes and has an interest in the tie between water quality and the health of the ecosystem. He said he was particularly interested in what is being done to clean up past contamination and prevent future problems. He attended the environmental monitoring and restoration class.
The SRS radiological discharge for 2013 was 0.19 millirems, according to one of the presentations. A millirem is a unit of radiation measurement. People receive an average of 625 millirem annually from sources ranging from the sun to food and electronic devices.
BJWSA spokesman Matthew Brady said the water utility has plans in place for an alternative water source, in case river water becomes unsafe for drinking.
The utility and SRS are part of the Central Savannah River Area Radiological Environmental Monitoring Program, which regularly tests the river for radioactive materials.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.