The USDOE Savannah River Site (SRS), an 803-km2 (310-mile2) facility located south of Aiken, SC on the upper Atlantic Coastal Plain and bounded to the west by the Savannah River, was established in the 1950s for the production and refinement of nuclear materials. To fulfill this mission during the past 50 years SRS has operated five nuclear reactors, two large chemical separation areas, waste disposal facilities (landfills, waste ponds, waste tanks, and waste stabilization), and a large number of research and logistics support facilities. Contaminants of concern (COC) resulting from site operations include chlorinated solvents, radionuclides, metals, and metalloids, often found as complex mixtures that greatly complicate remediation efforts when compared with civilian industries. The objective of this article is to provide a description of the lithology and hydrostatigraphy of the SRS, as well as a brief history of site operations and research activities as a preface to the current special section of Vadose Zone Journal (VZJ) dedicated to SRS, focusing mainly on issues that are unique to the USDOE complex. Contributions to the special section reflect a diverse range of topics, from hydrologic tracer experiments conducted both within the vadose and saturated zones to studies specifically aimed at identifying geochemical processes controlling the migration and partitioning of specific contaminants (e.g., TCE, 137Cs, U, and Pu) in SRS subsurface environments. Addressing the diverse environmental challenges of the SRS provides a unique opportunity to conduct both fundamental and applied research across a range of experimental scales. Hence, the SRS has been a pioneering force in several areas of environmental research and remediation, often through active interdisciplinary collaboration with researchers from other USDOE facilities, academic and federal institutions, and commercial entities.