EnviroReporter.com – July 30, 2009
We were barely catching our breath late Wednesday after last week’s launch of the redesigned EnviroReporter.com that was coordinated with breaking the LA Weekly news story “Wrinkles in Runkle Canyon – As developers eye the land, is Boeing downplaying the old nuclear accident nearby?” The new website allowed us to back up and supplement the Weekly article in a post called “Meltdown Dustup” with photos, documents, interviews, and films having to do with the country’s worst meltdown in 1959 just 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The reaction to the new website and article was strong and encouraging.
We were proud of our you-are-there account of the meltdown in the paper and the reactor worker interview online, which revealed finally which way the partially melted reactor fallout blew – west into the San Fernando Valley. We thought there might be reaction to our revelations that Boeing might have perjured itself in a report denying that Runkle Canyon borders the old Rocketdyne lab, or that there were tests done in the canyon for contamination. Indeed, Boeing contacted us today and said, basically, ‘you’re right, we’ll fix the report’ and that pretty much ties off that part of the story. Nice.
But less than an hour later, we came across a jaw-dropping article on ex-Los Angeles Daily News Editor Ron Kaye’s “OurLA.org” that was, to say the least, unexpected.
A meltdown denier. And not just any run of the mill meltdown denier; this one claims to have interviewed 20 scientist-types who worked on the Sodium Reactor Experiment who aren’t named and ask at the end of the article to not be contacted because they are so old. But wait, they didn’t say that at all. Chris Rowe’s editor says, setting up the piece, Rowe “wrote this story from their perspective as an open letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Didn’t Kaye notice this novel way to “debunk” the “meltdown myth”? Did he bother to see what this person has been quoted saying on other websites, like EnviroReporter.com, where she decried the cleanup of the lab as authorized by the Governor because “not only will we lose endangered species, but artifacts from the Chumash people and other prehistoric groups will be lost in the cleanup process.”
Huh? Don’t statements like these give good editors pause? Besides breaking every journalism rule in the book, the piece cobbles together a series of amateurish gibberish trying to dispel the notion that there was a meltdown on The Hill. The “Special Report” not only doesn’t sell the meltdown denier hogwash, it ends up being laughable even as it mischaracterizes this tragic event in 1959.
But the laughs wear off when considering a 2006 study we reported on that said between 260 to 1,800 people within a 62-mile radius of the east Ventura County lab got cancer from the meltdown. The comprehensive state-funded study reported that the SRE disaster released hundreds of times more radiation than Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island meltdown did in 1979.
Last week’s Weekly article continues the paper’s coverage of this massively contaminated lab that we began in 1998. But we didn’t get there first. Warren Olney broke this story for KNBC back in 1979 and even the Daily News broke big stories around this disaster.
The government has already dropped a quarter billion on cleaning up just 90 acres out of 2,850 in total — just the nuclear area where the meltdown occurred — an area that sits above Runkle Canyon where KB Home wants to build 461 homes despite evidence of radiological and chemical pollution, very possibly from the lab.
This is no joking matter. Contamination from this lab has affected thousands over decades and still does to this day. This kind of so-called “journalism” is described on Kaye’s website as: “OurLA.org is the news and information website for Los Angeles where everyone can be a reporter and exercise the right to free speech, learn from each other and get the benefit of the work of professional journalists as we work together to reinvigorate the civic and political culture of LA.”
“Where everyone can be a reporter”? What about being an editor? Did Kaye or anyone editing this website bother with even an iota of fact and source checking? And OurLA.org gets funding through Community Partners, a group that acts as a fiscal sponsor to organizations that don’t officially have non-profit status, to post this piffle?
“DEBUNKING THE MELTDOWN MYTH– Santa Susana 50 Years Later” is billed as a “Special Report by Chris Rowe” splashed across the website’s homepage. The name of the article is an equally addled “What Really Happened When Santa Susana’s Nuclear Reactor Overheated.”
A nuclear meltdown is “overheated”? Dang, that ain’t so bad.
But Rowe’s writing has just begun to sizzle:
We have recently read media accounts that the “Sodium Reactor Experiment” is being called a “meltdown”. At most, the Department of Energy refers to it as a “partial meltdown”.
So now the meltdown is “partial” not just “overheated”?
The media has said that this was an “uncontained facility” unlike a “traditional domed facility” of today. This is true – but there was no need for a “traditional domed facility” because this was not a “Water Cooled Reactor” – a reactor which could be damaged by a steam explosion. Sodium was chosen as the coolant because of the higher operating temperature, low pressure and no chance of a coolant explosion.
Hmmm. That seems odd. Every kind of modern reactor, especially sodium-cooled ones, has a containment dome to control radiation leaks in case of an accident. In sodium’s case, these reactors fell out of favor due to the fact that liquid sodium catches fire when exposed to air and explodes when it mixes with water. If there had been a containment dome at the SRE, the event would have been far less dangerous to the environment, workers and the people living downwind of the lab.
Yet with our eyewitness account in LA Weekly last week of all hell breaking loose in the reactor and everyone running out of the building and the whole lab being quarantined, the article maintains that “this structure was not considered contaminated enough to require evacuation by its employees.” So they called it a two-week lunch break?
How this chestnut got beyond Kaye mystifies me:
At no time were any employees or any community members in any danger. Atomics International workers wore dosimeters to monitor their exposure to radiation. They also wore film badges that were checked on a monthly basis. There was always a health physicist present.
Actually, it was reported in several publications that these badges were taken from workers and stored in a safe because they were getting overexposed, as were the workers wearing them. Our eyewitness, John Pace, told me that as well.
So where does Rowe come up with this stuff? It gets almost comical:
Why are we employees revealing ourselves today? We have heard the media reports recently that have taken what we have achieved for science – the safe domestic use of nuclear energy, and made it into a “worst case scenario” for the “Sodium Reactor Experiment”.
The SRE had a “hand and foot” monitor that employees utilized on exiting the building. Only one time did this sensor alarm. Investigation determined that the radiation was outside the building, fallout from a Russian nuclear test.
Rowe would have you believe that the radiation outside the uncontained reactor that suffered a partial meltdown actually came from the other side of the world, not from the other side of the door.
We believe that the activists in the community are creating alarm. Our friends are being frightened by media reports on the SRE. We want you to know that we had the most exposures to the SRE, or we worked at the SSFL at some point before, during, or after the SRE incident. We are alive and healthy today, and we do not believe that anyone has any health problems that can be attributed to the “Sodium Reactor Experiment”.
We, as in Chris Rowe, who wrote the article.
But the ending is priceless:
But what can be more telling of the safety of the SRE than having Mayor Sam Yorty of Los Angeles at its controls in 1963. “Mayor Sam” was given the “Honorary Title” of Nuclear Reactor Operator”.
If we can answer any further questions on this site, some of us will be glad to do so. Others find that our ages prevent further involvement. We request that our names and contact information be kept confidential with respect for our ages and for our families.
I can’t say I’m surprised that Chris Rowe would write this nonsense. Her May 16, 2008 e-mail to me pretty much summed up her writing skills.
“I wrote a piece on the SSFL a while back,” Rowe wrote. “It came out to 4500 words. Of course, no one will print that for me. But I want you to know that I cited one of your articles as a source (probably should have gone to the primary source, but who has the time.)”
That’s right; who has the time to actually go to a source when you can just be it yourself? And, say, shorten the piece to 2,900 words and shuck it off on an editor who’ll do anything to get a rise, even having provocateurs impersonating reporters impersonating supposed sources positing a revisionist version of a seminal event in Southern California.
If old pro’s like Ron Kaye can sign off on rubbish like this, then “citizen journalism” has hit a new low.