Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
By Kelly Lundeen
After seven years of stagnation, a partial cleanup at Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), 30 miles from Los Angeles, has resumed. Boeing, NASA, and the Department of Energy (DOE) are working under a cleanup agreement with the State of California, with a one-time completion date of 2017. NASA Inspector General’s Office admitted it would cost half a billion dollars and was “not achievable.”
The infamous 2,850-acre testing site for experimental nuclear reactors had the first meltdown in the US in 1959, causing the fourth largest release of radioactive iodine-131 in history. Up to 1,800 cases of cancer may have been caused by the accident, according to a Santa Susana Field Lab Advisory Panel study released in 2006. The US National Park Service (NPS) is now considering the site’s eligibility for recognition on the National Registry of Historic Places. If approved, cleanup requirements already agreed to could be waived.
The current cleanup efforts prioritize the buildings said to pose the greatest risk of erosion from severe storms and re-suspension of radioactive particles from wildfires. On July 21, demolition began in the DOE’s portion of the SSFL removing 4,123 cubic yards of low-level radioactive waste and about 67 cubic yards of mixed and low-level radioactive waste. Ten buildings are expected to be demolished and transported to as yet unnamed low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities.
Denise Duffield, associate director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, says the cleanup activities only scratch the surface. “Removing parts of these ten buildings will eliminate only about 0.001% of the contamination at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, the vast majority of which is in the soil.” Boeing hasn’t returned to cleanup since 2013. The NASA currently has plans to resume demolition in 2021.
Potentially challenging the future of the cleanup is a pending NASA application on behalf of the Chumash, Gabrieleño and Fernandeño tribes for the entire SSFL site to be designated a Native American cultural site in the list of National Register of Historic Places.
Within a small section of the NASA-owned property lies the 25-acre Burro Flats Painted Cave with its historic Indigenous paintings, already listed on the National Register. Over 100 cultural sites including at least ten caves with pictographs dating back 5,000 years were recently revealed during a survey of the SSFL, leaving little doubt that the site qualifies for designation as an Historic Place. Alan Salazar, a Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians Council Elder spoke at a July 28 meeting of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. “We’re in favor of Burro Flats being designated as a cultural district. But we also want this site cleaned up. … That whole site is sacred to us,” he said.
Yet many are skeptical of the timing of the designation. Area resident Melissa Bumstead, whose young daughter twice survived leukemia that Bumstead blames on the SSFL told the Simi Valley Acorn, “There is no reason this nomination couldn’t wait until after the cleanup was complete.”
Exceptions to the 2010 NASA cleanup agreement include “Native American artifacts that are formally recognized as Cultural Resources [aka Historic Places].” Those exceptions are subject to oversight by the State of California, not the tribe. The nomination will now undergo final review before the US National Park Service.
— EM News Flash; and Southwest Research and Information Center, July 22, 2020