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California fire near nuclear accident site via Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

By John Mecklin

Call it another sad chapter in the long and depressing book of governmental failures to properly clean up after nuclear research and production efforts. Last week, the Woolsey Fire—one of three major, climate change-charged conflagrations now afflicting California—apparently started on the grounds of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, located just south of Simi Valley and west of Los Angeles. Closed in 1996, the lab site was home to rocket engine and nuclear reactor research; one of the nuclear efforts—the Sodium Reactor Experiment—led to the partial melt-down of a reactor in 1959 and the release of radioactive material. But as the Los Angeles Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility noted, the Santa Susana site is contaminated in a variety of ways: “Decades of nuclear and rocket-engine testing activity, including nuclear reactor accidents and other toxic spills and releases, have resulted in widespread contamination throughout [lab’s] 2,850-acre facility.”

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) quickly announced that it didn’t believe the fire had released significant amounts of toxins. “Our staff were able to access the site Saturday morning and assess damage caused by the fire,” a Tuesday press release said. “We confirmed that the [lab] facilities that previously handled radioactive and hazardous materials were not affected by the fire. Over the weekend our multi-agency team took measurements of radiation and hazardous compounds, both on the site and in the surrounding community. The results from this initial round of testing showed no radiation levels above background levels, and no elevated levels of hazardous compounds other than those normally present after a wildfire.”

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