MELTDOWN MYSTERY ROCKETDYNE LEAK NEARLY 50 YEARS LATER QUESTIONS REMAIN OVER JUST HOW BIG ACCIDENT WAS.Byline: KERRY CAVANAUGH and BETH BARRETT Staff Writers
Nearly a half-century after the meltdown meltdown
Occurrence in which a huge amount of thermal energy and radiation is released as a result of an uncontrolled chain reaction in a nuclear power reactor. The chain reaction that occurs in the reactor's core must be carefully regulated by control rods, which absorb of a nuclear reactor at the Santa Susana Santa Susana can refer to several places:
Using computer modeling, a state-funded study released last week estimated the meltdown released 300 times more radiation than the infamous accident at Three-Mile Island -- considered the worst in the nation's history -- and may have triggered at least 260 cancer cases.
Boeing Co., which now owns the lab, and the Department of Energy, which contracted for its work, dispute the study's key findings.
Yet the mystery around the accident remains, tangled by missing data and what some say has been bureaucratic bu·reau·crat
1. An official of a bureaucracy.
2. An official who is rigidly devoted to the details of administrative procedure.
bu foot-dragging and cover-ups. And the new studies have only reignited debate over what happened on the hill in July 1959.
``I feel we've been strung along for 17 years,'' said Barbara Johnson Barbara Johnson (b. 1947) is an American literary critic and translator. She is currently a Professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society at Harvard University. , a cancer survivor and one of several citizen watchdogs dedicated to getting more information about what went on at the field lab.
``Now that the evidence is coming out, they should take responsibility and they aren't doing it.
``I'm angry and I've been angry for a long time. I'm angry, because not only was our health exposed, but our time has been compromised trying to fight this and to get answers that should have been forthcoming a long time ago.''
The latest study took seven years to complete. Researchers admit their findings still had to be based on some speculation and technical modeling to fill in information gaps.
``The true story of a partial meltdown of a reactor, without containment structure, in the Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. area -- what should have been one of the biggest stories of the period -- was buried,'' the study concluded.
Boeing and DOE officials say they have cooperated in numerous health and environmental studies over the years and have worked hard to provide information on the meltdown.
``There's an immense amount of information out there. When there is a question or concern, we make an effort to find an answer and get it out,'' said Blythe Jameson, spokeswoman for Boeing.
But community members say the story of the meltdown has been one of the secrets and cover-ups that started the day the accident occurred.
Remote test site
The Santa Susana Field Laboratory, located on 2,900 acres in the hills between Chatsworth and Simi Valley Simi Valley (sē`mē, sĭm`ē), city (1990 pop. 100,217), Ventura co., SW Calif. in an oil, fruit, and farm region; laid out 1887, inc. 1969. , was developed as a remote site to test rocket Noun 1. test rocket - a rocket fired for test purposes
research rocket, test instrument vehicle
rocket, projectile - any vehicle self-propelled by a rocket engine engines and conduct nuclear research.
The Atomic Energy Commission Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), former U.S. government commission created by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and charged with the development and control of the U.S. atomic energy program following World War II. built the nation's first nuclear power plant to deliver energy to the commercial grid at the lab. Called the Sodium Reactor Experiment, the plant was featured on Edward R. Murrow's television documentary show ``See It Now'' as it delivered electricity to the then-tiny town of Moorpark.
But during a run from July 14 through July 26, 1959, workers experienced problems with the reactor overheating Overheating
An economy that is growing very quickly, with the risk of high inflation. . On July 26, they shut it down and discovered that 13 of its 43 fuel rods had partially melted, releasing unknown levels of radiation into the reactor and the building that housed it.
Workers and the community remained unaware there was a problem.
``I never heard anything about a meltdown when I worked for the company. It was never talked about and it was never in the company paper,'' said Robert Perock, 75, who worked on rocket engines at the field lab at the time.
He learned of the meltdown 40 years later when he was diagnosed with a kind of leukemia leukemia (lkē`mēə), cancerous disorder of the blood-forming tissues (bone marrow, lymphatics, liver, spleen) characterized by excessive production of immature or mature linked to radiation exposure.
The only news of the incident came about a month after the meltdown, when the Valley Green Sheet, a forerunner of the Daily News, reported that a press release issued by Atomics International said there had been an accident with its reactor, but no radiation had escaped.
``No release of radioactive materials to the plant or its environs occurred and operating personnel were not exposed to harmful conditions,'' said the press release issued on Aug. 29, 1959.
Twenty years TWENTY YEARS. The lapse of twenty years raises a presumption of certain facts, and after such a time, the party against whom the presumption has been raised, will be required to prove a negative to establish his rights.
2. later, students and reporters were researching Three-Mile Island, a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant that suffered a partial meltdown that was the largest U.S. nuclear accident ever.
It was they who discovered the Santa Susana lab meltdown. Then in 1989, The Daily News revealed that the field lab contained extensive radioactive and toxic contamination.
Boeing and DOE officials have conceded that the press release didn't tell the whole truth. But to this day, nobody has been able to say definitively what was released into the air because the company has not provided monitoring reports detailing specific radioactive materials that were released from the reactor stack.
In 2004, Boeing and the DOE held a public meeting in Simi Valley to detail what happened during and after the meltdown. They said most of the radioactive material from the melted fuel rods was trapped in the sodium coolant coolant (kōō´lnt),
n and never left the concrete-encased reactor.
But according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. an internal quarterly memo issued in 1959 by Atomics International, radioactive gas from the accident was transferred to a storage tank and slowly released through the reactor's stack over several weeks.
The memo does not say what type of radiation or isotopes were in the gas -- whether they were relatively harmless or more dangerous.
By comparison, quarterly memos issued before and after the meltdown specify the kinds of isotopes released from the storage tanks during their respective periods.
Nevertheless, Boeing and the DOE have repeatedly said the radioactive gases released from the reactor were largely harmless.
They estimate the closest resident living in the Santa Susana Knolls in July 1959 would have been exposed to 0.018 millirem mil·li·rem
n. Abbr. mrem
One thousandth (10-3) of a rem. -- one-fifth the amount of radiation a person receives in a chest X-ray chest x-ray,
n an examination of the chest using x-rays. Routinely performed in patients complaining of chest pain to rule out respiratory or heart disease.
chest X-ray Chest film, see there .
``The off-site release was trivially small,'' said Phil Rutherford, who heads health, safety and radiation oversight at Boeing.
``We monitored all the radiation workers (after the meltdown). Nobody exceeded their allowable regulatory exposures. We don't see any contamination off-site.''
But nuclear expert David Lochbaum believes more dangerous radiation was released than Boeing or the DOE have acknowledged.
In the study released last week, Lochbaum analyzed technical studies by the company immediately after the accident.
He said workers in that study said they couldn't locate all of the dangerous radioactive materials that should have been in the reactor. Therefore, Lochbaum said the materials must have escaped.
He also studied a similar nuclear reactor meltdown, to gauge how much radiation could have been released. He said those two reviews supported his conclusions that at least some dangerous radioactive material escaped from the reactor.
But the company report's executive summary -- and the company's subsequent position -- were that no radiation was released.
``I can't explain how that happened,'' said Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Nuclear Safety Project. ``I don't see how you can write a summary statement that contradicts everything that precedes it.''
The independent Santa Susana Field Laboratory Advisory Panel, which released last week's report, isn't the first to accuse Boeing of withholding crucial information.
``Throughout its history, the facility has shrouded shroud
1. A cloth used to wrap a body for burial; a winding sheet.
2. Something that conceals, protects, or screens: under a shroud of fog.
a. its environmental problems behind a wall of secrecy. Revelations about accidents, spills and releases have come reluctantly, often involuntarily and frequently decades after the fact,'' its report said.
For example, scientists have tried to find out which way the wind was blowing on the day of the meltdown in order to track where radiation could have moved.
Dan Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, which has been acting as an environmental watchdog on the lab for more than 25 years, said there was an Atomics International weather station on the reactor at the time of the meltdown.
But the DOE and Boeing have denied requests for that information.
DOE's Mike Lopez said he was not aware of such a request but speculated his agency may have denied one if the weather data came from Boeing.
``I know DOE doesn't have anything,'' Lopez said, when asked if the agency has weather information from July 1959.
``Some data may exist. It may be an issue of what is government data and what is private data.''
Rutherford, the Boeing executive, said the company has weather data from the 1960s -- which has been released publicly -- but that he has never seen comparable information from July 1959.
Critics also say reassurances by the lab's owners have been used over the years to deflect oversight by public agencies and delay cleanups and health studies.
In the early 1980s, for instance, Ventura County officials decided not to oversee operations at the site after being told by company officials that no one had been hurt and no radioactivity radioactivity, spontaneous disintegration or decay of the nucleus of an atom by emission of particles, usually accompanied by electromagnetic radiation. The energy produced by radioactivity has important military and industrial applications. had leaked off-site.
But despite the denials and obstacles, every year more information about the accident trickles out and public agencies discover more contamination at the field lab.
By the summer of 1990, a consultant's report identified the partial meltdown -- as well as rocket-engine testing at the site -- as sources of possible radioactive and chemical exposure in the area.
Shortly after that, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the U.S. government, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1970 to reduce and control air and water pollution, noise pollution, and radiation and to ensure the safe handling and radiation expert found that lab owners didn't have a good handle on where radioactive materials had been dumped -- inadvertently or intentionally -- on site.
The EPA EPA eicosapentaenoic acid.
n.pr See acid, eicosapentaenoic.
n. recommended doing an independent survey analyzing radiation in the soil, but the DOE decided the work was unnecessary.
And while the hulking hulk·ing also hulk·y
Unwieldy or bulky; massive.
big and ungainly
Adj. 1. concrete reactor has since been dug up and removed, there are still signs of it on site.
In recent years, the Years, The
the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]
See : Time DOE has found high levels of radioactive tritium tritium (trĭt`ēəm), radioactive isotope of hydrogen with mass number 3. The tritium nucleus, called a triton, contains one proton and two neutrons. It has a half-life of 12.5 years and decays by beta-particle emission. in the groundwater at the lab. And off-site, some radioactive materials have been found at a planned housing development in Simi Valley -- though regulatory agencies retested and decided the radiation was below background levels.
The mystery surrounding the meltdown and what may be left behind is now being fought in court. Last year, the Committee to Bridge the Gap, the Natural Resources Defense Council The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a New York City-based, non-profit non-partisan international environmental advocacy group, with offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing. Founded in 1970, NRDC today has 1. and the city of Los Angeles
And each year, neighbors around the field lab said they lose more confidence in Boeing and the DOE.
``I think it's terrible that they deny that this happened,'' said Holly Huff huff - To compress data using a Huffman code. Various programs that use such methods have been called "HUFF" or some variant thereof.
Opposite: puff. Compare crunch, compress. , who lives directly downhill from the lab.
``Everyone knows things happen and it was an experiment, so just admit it and say, `Now what do we do about it; we're really sorry.' They have to take responsibility for it.''
2 photos, box
(1) Rocketdyne workers struggle with a reactor plug cover after the 1959 partial meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Hills The Simi Hills are a low rocky mountain range in Southern California. Geography
Simi Hills is located on the western edge of the San Fernando Valley, United States. They run east-west and they extend 26 miles east-west, and 7 miles north-south. .
(2) The entrance to the former Rocketdyne facility in the hills above Simi Valley is shown Tuesday. Questions remain over the scope and impact to local residents of the meltdown at the facility.
Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
Tracking the meltdown
SOURCE: Daily News research
Gregg Miller/Staff Artist