Ventura County Reporter – December 31, 2009

A look back at 2009

The year started off promisingly for the astronomically polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory, aka Rocketdyne. The Boeing-owned lab sits on 2,850 acres at the eastern border of Ventura County and is massively polluted by radiation and chemicals. A cleanup costing hundreds of millions has begun and is scheduled for completion in 2017.

In early January, California EPA Secretary Linda Adams said the agency would oppose federal Superfund listing for the site, insisting that the state remain in charge of the lab cleanup and employ tougher state remediation standards.

Activists rejoiced at the news.

July 13 though 27 marked the 50th anniversary of the Sodium Reactor Experiment’s partial meltdown in 1959 at Rocketdyne. According to some estimates, the disaster released hundreds of times more radiation than the infamous Three Mile Island meltdown did in 1979.

Disaster is no stranger to Rocketdyne, and by July 29, it was clear another one was looming. Daniel Hirsch, head of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap, told a Simi Valley audience about “secret negotiations” between the Department of Energy, NASA and Boeing over Rocketdyne. Hirsch said they had “been resisting complying with that law and attempting to break the promise that they made to the Congress.”

Hirsch also said that state legislators and regulators wouldn’t stand for it. They didn’t, and in August the Department of Toxic Substances Control replaced the Rocketdyne and Runkle Canyon cleanups manager, Norman Riley, and promised to get tough on the polluters.

Riley had said in an interview that he thought the tough state remediation law was a hindrance to the cleanup and that Boeing would sue rather than remove that much goo. The company did just that in November, contending it is being unfairly singled out for cleanup standards that are impossible to achieve. The battle continues.