60th Anniversary of Nuclear Meltdown Near Los Angeles to Be Commemorated July 13

Community event will call for the promised full cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and include a memorial in honor of workers and community members harmed by exposure to the site’s contamination

Photos and B-roll related to meltdown can be downloaded at http://committeetobridgethegap.org/ssfl/sre-meltdown-anniversary/

Click here to view video of John Pace, eyewitness to SSFL meltdown, discussing his experience at a 2014 SSFL Work Group meeting, and click here to view the panel discussion after his presentation.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 2, 2019

Contact: Melissa Bumstead melissabumstead@sbcglobal.net
Denise Duffield 310-339-9676, dduffield@psr-la.org
Daniel Hirsch, 831-337-8003, dhirsch1@cruzio.com

On Saturday, July 13, community members who live near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) will hold an event to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the site’s partial nuclear meltdown and to rally in support of its long overdue cleanup. The event will take place from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Rancho Tapo Community Park, 3700 Avenida Simi, Simi Valley, CA at the pavilions near the ballpark.

SSFL is a former nuclear reactor and rocket-engine testing facility located in the hills above the Simi and San Fernando Valleys. On July 13, 1959, power began to rise rapidly in the core of the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE). Operators barely managed to shut it down, but a few hours later, without determining the cause of the incident, inexplicably started it up again and let it run for 10 more days. By the time the SRE was finally shut down, a third of its fuel had experienced melting. Because it had no containment structure, radioactivity was released directly into the environment.

The SSFL meltdown was kept secret for two decades, until it was discovered by UCLA students and their instructor, Dan Hirsch, who brought it to public attention. Hirsch, now retired director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at UC Santa Cruz and President of the nuclear policy organization Committee to Bridge the Gap, said a lack of candor and disregard for public safety has characterized much of the site’s operations.

“The Atomic Energy Commission issued a news release weeks after the accident merely saying that a ‘parted fuel element’ had been observed,” said Hirsch. “They didn’t admit that 13 out of 43 fuel rods melted, or that they’d intentionally vented radioactivity into the air for weeks. This kind of reckless continued for decades, with little concern for workers and nearby communities. Such disregard continues to this day, with the contamination still not cleaned up.”

SSFL remains contaminated with dangerous radionuclides including strontium-90, cesium-137, plutonium-239 and toxic chemicals such as trichloroethylene (TCE), perchlorate, dioxins and heavy metals. Federally-funded studies indicate increased cancers among site workers, elevated cancer rates in the nearby community associated with proximity to SSFL, and that contamination migrates off of the site over EPA levels of concern.

“Exposure to contaminants that are known to exist at SSFL can cause cancers and leukemias as well as developmental, genetic, neurological, and immune system disorders,” said Dr. Robert Dodge, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, a public health advocacy group that has worked for a full SSFL cleanup for over 30 years.

In 2010, the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control signed agreements with the U.S. Dept. of Energy and NASA to fully clean up their parts of SSFL by 2017. The Boeing Company, which owns most of the site, is similarly bound by a 2007 Consent Order to have completed cleanup by 2017. However, the promised SSFL cleanup has not even begun, and the parties responsible for the contamination are now pushing to leave about 98% of the contamination not cleaned up.

“Since when do polluters get to decide how much of their mess they clean up?” said Marie Mason, Simi Valley resident and co-founder of the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition, which has been fighting for full cleanup since 1989. “They don’t, it’s illegal. But the SSFL cleanup has been one broken promise after another, and all the while contamination comes off that hill and into our neighborhoods. Just last fall, the Woolsey Fire started at and burned most of the site, risking increased exposures to SSFL’s pollution. It’s got to get cleaned up.”

Newer activists like Melissa Bumstead, a West Hills resident whose daughter has twice survived a rare leukemia and who has mapped over 50 other rare pediatric cancers near SSFL, are bringing fresh energy and new voices into the cleanup fight. Bumstead’s Change.org petition has now been signed by over 650,000 people and she is hoping the July 13 event will help galvanize the community to fight for the full, promised cleanup.

“As we look back at the meltdown anniversary, we also have to look forward and get more people involved in fighting for the cleanup. Rock the Cleanup will be a family friendly event, with informative speakers, games, and fun activities like rock-painting, We’ll use those rocks to create memorials to those harmed by SSFL. We have seen some positive steps from our elected officials recently, but more – many more – people have to speak out if we are ever going to get the 100% cleaned up that we were promised.”

# # #

Parents vs. SSFL is a grassroots group of concerned parents and residents who demand compliance with cleanup agreements signed in 2010 that require a full cleanup of all radioactive and chemical contamination at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

The Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition, or RCC, is a community-based alliance dedicated to the cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), commonly known as Rocketdyne.

Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA) works to protect public health from nuclear and environmental threats and has worked for the full cleanup of SSFL for over 30 years.

The Committee to Bridge the Gap is a non-profit nuclear policy organization focusing on issues of nuclear safety, waste disposal, proliferation, and disarmament.


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