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Did Woolsey Fire Cause Radioactive Fallout?

by Michael Steinberg Monday, Dec. 03, 2018 at 10:26 PM

Did the Woolsey Fire release radioactivity from the Still contaminated Santa Susanna Field Lab?

Nuclear Shutdown News November 2018

Michael Steinberg Black Rain Press

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the decline and fall of the nuclear power industry in the US and beyond, and highlights the efforts of those who are working to create a nuclear free world. Here is our November 2018 report.

Did California Fire Cause Radioactive Fallout?

On November 12 the Ventura County Star ran its story "Activists Fear Woolsey Fire Released Radioactive Materials At The Santa Susanna Field Lab."

The Woolsey Fire started November 8 in Ventura County , just north of Los Angeles County, and burned 97,000 acres. The Santa Susanna Field Labs ((SSFL) is a facility that produced nuclear power in the early days of the industry.

In 1959 an experimental reactor, one of 10 that would come to be on the site, went out of control, causing a partial meltdown that was covered up for decades.

In his 2012 book Mad Science, Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radioactive and Public Health Project, in his chapter "Big Meltdown in Hollywood's Back Yard," describes what went wrong at Santa Susanna in July 1959.

"A blazing-hot bull in a china shop now existed in the (nuclear reactor) core. The uranium (and its hundreds of radioactive byproducts...that was supposed to be cooled by (liquified) sodium hadn't been cooled at all. The fuel rods containing uranium pellets began to melt and large amounts of radioactive gases were formed."

Atomics International, owner of the nuke plant, couldn't shut it down until the next day, but then soon restarted the damaged reactor, while massive amounts of radioactive gases were periodically released. Former Santa Susanna worker John Pace recounted in Mad Science, of these releases, "They liked to do it at night, since not as many were on the graveyard shift...They tried to make sure it was blowing towards the Pacific Ocean, instead of the San Fernando Valley, so it would affect fewer people."

But that reactor wasn't permanently shut down until 1965.

Other nuclear facilities operated at Santa Susanna, compounding radioactive releases over the years, as did following at other reactors on site releases. Complicating this toxic mess were hazardous releases from rocket fuel operations at Santa Susanna.

But why should we worry about this now?

Because Santa Susanna was never cleaned up.

Fire and Rain

One agency dealing with possible effects of the Woolsey Fire is the CA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which, the Ventura Star reported, found that everything was AOK around the Santa Susanna Field Lab after the fire started.

But "cleanup activists," who have been advocating for decontamination of the field lab site for decades, strongly disagreed, the Star reported.

Melissa Bumstead, who lives in the area,ge of Physicians For Social Responsibility told the Star, "The toxic materials are in Santa Susanna Field Lab soil and vegetation, and when it becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is a real possibility of heightened exposure to area residents ."

Later in November, on KPFA radio in Berkeley, Dan Hirsch of UC Santa Cruz and the Committee To Bridge the Gap, reported, "The Woolsey Fire started just after a disturbance at an electrical disturbance at a Southern California Edison electrical substation near the Santa Susanna Field Lab. Some particulates will get into peoples lungs and other internal organs."

On November 20 NBC TV LA reported that rain expected to arrive "could also spread the toxic contamination. Dr. Tilman Ruff. a public health physician and Nobel Prize winner" stated "Rain is distributing toxic materials in new ways."

Sources: Ventura County Star, vcstar.com; Mad Science, Joseph Mangano; KPFA, kpfa.org; NBC Los Angeles, nbclosangeles.com.

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