At first this later winter trip to the dump produced no surprises – the soldiers’ gravestones still lay jutting out of the hillside of the West LA VA’s biomedical nuclear and chemical dump. The surprise came when EnviroReporter.com realized it wasn’t alone. A site inspection was taking place with someone from the government, presumably the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), along with two VA employees.Hot Zone at the West LA VA

(We couldn’t confirm this until December 1, 2009 because the VA won’t return our calls or e-mails. On December 1, we found out that one of the two VA men, who only gave his name as “Mark,” confirmed that this was indeed an inspection by the NRC.)

In the early afternoon, this reporter noticed a trio of men standing on a bluff overlooking the dump. One of the men looked different to me. Perhaps it was the suit but something in me said ‘that guy’s NRC.’ It turns out I was right.

Behind a hedge I could barely overhear the men but they spoke in raised recriminatory voices. The NRC man in the suit said something that included that the NRC had “signed off” on the place. “We gave you a pass.”

The older VA man said “I did walk around the place with a Geiger Counter” but I couldn’t hear what he meant. The men began to move in my direction and I quickly sat at a picnic table and opened a deliberately upside down Ventura County Reporter newspaper as I hid my notepad behind it.

“This is just perfect for the media,” said one of the men as they walked toward their cars. “You build a dog park over a nuclear dump; people care more about dogs than people but people are walking on it.” Then another man piped up and said “Or like this guy reading the paper!” The man in the suit shushed him.

I couldn’t tell if that meant I was sitting over part of the dump. Though that didn’t seem right, my sense of who these people were was. It made sense when they subsequently went in two cars to the biomedical research area of the VA where there are stores of radioactive materials. The NRC regularly inspects such places at facilities like the VA. The men ended up going in one shipping container and an old metal building that have radiation warning signs on them before going into back entrance of a large building.

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