Sunday, January 12, 2014


More about the Santa Susana Field Lab Clean-up

In a previous post I wrote about the urban legend in which the experimental sodium cooled power reactor experienced a "partial melt-own with release to the environment of about a million curies of radioactive fission products."  My point was and is that the "melt-down" didn't happen.  There was an accident in which about a third of the fuel elements were damaged.  Radioactive fission products escaped from the damaged fuel elements - into the sodium.  The sodium coolant was seriously contaminated with fission products and therefore couldn't be disposed of.  The reactor operators replaced the fuel elements and operated the reactor for another four years - with the contaminated sodium.  I don't know what was ultimately done with the sodium.  A "melt-down" would have damaged the fixed parts of the reactor structure so that it couldn't have been used again.

This urban legend has many believers.  People are naturally nervous, even fearful, of nuclear radiation.  The thought that a "melt-down" occurred with massive radioactive contamination of the site has led the believers to insist that the site be thoroughly cleaned of any possible residual sources of radiation and restored to the state it was in before 1947, when North American Aviation acquired the site for a field laboratory.  Such a severe clean-up would involve removing about two feet of top soil from the entire site and replacing it with "clean" soil.  Soil would be trucked from the site and replacement soil trucked in.  The whole operation would take several years and would involve at least fifty truck loads of soil a day through parts of Chatsworth, West Hills, and Woodland Hills and on two freeways leaving Los Angeles.

I am led to wonder who would benefit from such an operation.  Certainly not the residents of the communities through which the trucks would pass.  Certainly not the residents near the areas where the presumably dirty dirt would be dumped.  The legend believers would have the satisfaction of having punished the polluters, the successor to North American Aviation and the federal government agencies that funded all the research and development activity at the field laboratory.

The proposed level of clean-up would make the site suitable for residential use.  I can imagine a group of real estate developers waiting for the clean-up to be finished and the whole area put up for sale.  It's a high spot in the mountain range that runs through our city.  Residences there would command top dollar from persons who can pay for an expensive house with a fine view.  I suspect that some developers may be spending some money to keep the fear of the "melt-down" an active prod to make sure that the political leaders don't settle for anything less that a "return to original condition" level of clean-up.

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