By Michael Collins

LA Weekly – July 8, 1999

Rocket Slime - Delta test pads sluice goo to pond in 1950sIt’s been more than a decade since Rocketdyne shut down its nuclear-test site to focus on cleaning up the toxic goo contaminating its sprawling compound between Chatsworth and Simi Valley. The cleanup has been a long, slow process, with the aerospace giant fighting for ludicrously lenient standards every step of the way.

One of the barriers to better standards has been a standoff between the California Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s Department of Energy, which in a classic conflict of interest both regulates the cleanup and owns the grounds on which Rocketdyne’s nuclear site is situated.

So OffBeat was heartened at the announcement last week that the EPA, which backs a much more stringent definition of “clean” than the Department of Energy, plans within two months to submit a proposal to examine contamination levels on Rocketdyne grounds. A 1997 UCLA study linked increased cancer-death rates among Rocketdyne employees with exposure to nuclear materials on-site.

The EPA has been pushing for a contamination report for years, but has been unable to wrest the funding from the Department of Energy, which controls the bulk of the cleanup cash. Rocketdyne recently got nearly $150 million from the government toward its cleanup costs, and it looks like the EPA may finally get a slice.

Trouble is, the stricter the standards the more it costs to extract the toxic waste that has leached into the ground from the 16 aging iron-and-concrete reactors and other nuke facilities at the site.

At a recent meeting of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Workgroup (ostensibly created to figure out how best to clean up the site but, OffBeat suspects, really just a device to placate those pesky concerned residents and anti-nuclear activists), about 60 spectators looked on as various governmental and Rocketdyne types bemoaned the high cost of cleanup.

“We want to do the right thing,” proclaimed Hannibal Joma, the local site manager for the Department of Energy. “We don’t want to break the bank,” he added. “At the same time we don’t want to leave contamination on that site.” Just where this heartfelt financial concern leaves Rocketdyne employees and local residents remains to be seen.