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Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness leverages Aiken's nuclear roots for education

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For years, a local nonprofit has worked to educate the masses and dispel rumors and misconceptions about all things nuclear, a critical mission in light of Aiken County’s intimate relationship with the Savannah River Site.

Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness – or CNTA, as with all things atomic, there are abbreviations – serves to educate the public by providing clear-cut information about nuclear technology in the health, economic, environmental and national security sectors.

The organization started in 1991, “and it sort of jived with when Westinghouse came into the Savannah River Site and took over the contract from DuPont,” said CNTA Executive Director Jim Marra, a former Savannah River National Laboratory employee.

“Basically, it was a group of citizens in the community, in concert with some of the people at the site, that said, ‘We really need to advocate for the good things they are doing and things that are going on,’” Marra said.

CNTA’s early years were more lobbying than education and advocacy. But around 2000, things shifted.

“We have an opportunity here to stand up and provide objective information,” Marra said in his recounting, adding, “We’re trying to be the honest brokers of the nuclear thing.”

People from all walks of life comprise the nonprofit’s board; there are current and former Savannah River Site employees, leaders in education, Department of Energy aficionados, and former military.

More information about Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness can be found online,

CNTA’s contemporary purpose and vision are supported by three main pillars or initiatives: education, communication and networking.

Each breaks down further, into direct actions: hosting workshops, conferring thousands of dollars in scholarships, awards and grants, and doing teach-ins; expanding on social media, in the news and throughout the community; and organizing young professionals events, lectures, and breakfast forums with respected speakers. (The breakfast get-togethers are known as Up & Atom, a topical play on words.)

“We will participate in almost every STEM activity we get invited to or are asked to get involved in,” Marra said, using shorthand for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum. “We can tailor our message to those people at any level.”

Last year, as turbulent as it was, proved successful for the nuclear nonprofit. Its profile boomed, simply put, and a major fundraiser raked in more than $17,000.

“It was a great event, and, as always, this is going to support our education, our outreach, our scholarship programs, our grants programs,” Marra said in October. “And, again, a great day of fellowship and meeting and getting to know each other as well as raising a lot of money.”

As for the future, Marra would like to see more of the same, but cast with a larger net.

“We’re going to continue to do what we’re doing,” he explained, “but we’re trying to expand it in a number of ways.”

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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