by Michael Steinberg
Monday, Jul. 31, 2017 at 4:54 PM
July 1959: The nation's worst nuclear meltdown happened 20 miles from downtown LA.
Worst Meltdown-And You Never Heard Of It!
Michael Steinberg Black Rain Press
That's Right. Wikipedia characterizes the meltdown as "the worst in US history" and asserts "the radioactive releases are thought to be much more than at Three Mile Island in 1979."
And where? Less than 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles and less than 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
July 2017 marks 58 years since this little known catastrophe, which occurred in July 1959 at the Santa Susanna Field Laboratory in Southern California's Ventura county, not many miles north of LA county.
Santa Susanna became a site for developing US commercial nuclear reactors in the 1950s. Over those years 10 such experimental "low power" reactors, operated by Atomics International, ran there. One of them became the first nuke to produce electricity for a US municipality, Moorpark in 1957.
But on July 12, 1959, an experimental trial at another reactor went terribly wrong.
In his 2012 book, Mad Science, author Joseph Mangano, director of the Radiation and Public Health Project (radiation.org ) describes these events: "temperatures climbed to levels much greater than during any of the other previous tests…A blazing-hot bull in a china shop now existed in the (nuclear) core…The fuel rods containing uranium pellets began to melt and large amounts of radioactive gases were formed."
Operators couldn't shut down the reactor until the next day. But instead of keeping it closed Atomics International ordered it restarted, meltdown and all, throughout the month. John Pace a worker in the reactor, remembers,"Starting the of the second day of the meltdown holding tanks (which hold radioactive releases until they are released into the environment) were full. They still didn't know how much radiation we were dealing with-the (radiation) monitors went clear off the scale."
Each day for the next two weeks," Mangano reported, " radiation in the holding tanks was gradually released into the air. Pace recalls that the exercise took place every day, sometimes twice a day…the greatest concern among officials was which way the wind was blowing." Pace told Mangano, "They tried to make sure it was blowing towards the Pacific Ocean, instead of the San Fernando Valley, so it would affect fewer people."
The reactor didn't fully shut down until July 23. But this was hardly the end of the story. More radiation was released subsequently, blowing in the wind wherever. Atomics International told workers like John Pace to keep theie mouths shut, and kept the meltdown from the public for decades.
Today it is still unclear who should clean up Santa Susanna, and what health problems it may have caused in surrounding communities.
On March 8 this year, KCBS TV Channel 2 in LA ran a story, "Concerned Parents Call For Full Cleanup of Toxic Santa Susanna Site." One of those parents, Melissa Bumstead, whose daughter has leukemia, told KCBS she documents cases of other rare cancers near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. "We feel very strongly that there may be a pediatric cancer cluster surrounding the site that may be linked to the toxins," she told the news channel.
Santa Susanna was also the site of a rocket development facility, whose rocket fuel and other toxic chemicals add to the poisonous stew that still haunts residents and former workers.
David Hirsch, director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at UC Santa Cruz, told KCBS, "There have been federally funded studies that indicate the rate of cancer is 60 percent higher closer to the (Santa Susanna) site than further away."
Sources: Wikipedia, wikipedia.org, Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment, Joseph Mangano; KCBS TV LA, losangelescbslocal.com