Several well-known landmarks, like Disneyland, Hollywood, and the Golden Gate Bridge, are located in California. However, it also keeps certain sinister secrets from its past, such the presence of a covert nuclear testing site that was used to test nuclear weapons and reactors and is now contaminated and abandoned.
The Santa Susana Field Lab
About thirty miles northwest of Los Angeles, in the hills above the San Fernando and Simi valleys, sits the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL), a covert nuclear laboratory. The U.S. government and commercial businesses founded the SSFL in 1947 to test experimental rocketry and nuclear reactors.
The 2,800-acre property was separated into four sections, each with a distinct function and degree of protection. Ten nuclear reactors and other hot labs for the processing and storage of radioactive materials were located in Area Four, which was also the most dangerous and covert.
The Nuclear Accidents and Cover-Ups
The health and safety of the workers as well as the local people were put at risk by a number of nuclear mishaps and events that occurred in the SSFL throughout the years and emitted radiation into the air, soil, and water. On July 13, 1959, a partial meltdown of a reactor in Area Four resulted in core damage and the discharge of radioactive gasses, which was the most devastating disaster.
The workers were instructed to release the gasses into the environment, frequently at night, in order to escape detection, and the accident was kept a secret from the public for decades. Since the data were either lost, erroneous, or inadequate, it is still unknown how much radiation was exposed to and contaminated the area.
Radioactive and hazardous materials, including plutonium, uranium, tritium, cesium, strontium, perchlorate, and PCBs, were implicated in fires, spills, leaks, and explosions at the SSFL. Additionally, a lot of these incidents went unreported to the public and authorities, and the cleanup operations were either insufficient or took too long. For example, in 1964, radioactive waste was burned in a heated lab in Area Four, causing smoke and ash to be released into the atmosphere. The debris was thrown into an open pit on the property, and the fire was unreported to the authorities.
The Closure and Cleanup
In 1988, the SSFL stopped using nuclear power, and in 2006, it stopped testing rockets. Since then, there have been numerous instances of negligence and abandonment at the site, which has resulted in environmental degradation and health hazards. The U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, and Boeing still control the site, and they are in charge of cleaning and restoring it. However, because the parties involved have disagreed on the standards, procedures, and timelines for the cleanup, it has been a drawn-out and contentious process.
Thousands of people live, work, and attend school in the areas that encircle the SSFL, including West Hills, Chatsworth, Simi Valley, and Thousand Oaks. Numerous individuals have claimed elevated incidences of cancer, leukemia, thyroid issues, congenital malformations, and other ailments that they attribute to the poisoning of the SSFL. In an effort to receive justice and compensation for their suffering, a few of them have brought legal action against the site’s owners and operators.
The Future of the SSFL
The SSFL, which once contained a covert nuclear facility, is now a ghost town of tunnels, buildings, and equipment. The environment and public health are still under risk due to the radioactive and poisonous elements still present in the site. Although the owners and authorities of the site have pledged to clean it up and return it to its original state, the work has been sluggish and contentious. Neighbors and activists at the location have called for a thorough and prompt cleanup, as well as more awareness and pressure on the matter.
The future of the SSFL remains unclear due to the obstacles and difficulties it must overcome, including a lack of money, complicated contamination, ongoing legal issues, and natural calamities. Numerous wildfires have also had an impact on the site, including the Woolsey Fire in 2018, which burned portions of the property and sparked worries about the contamination’s potential to spread. The public’s interest and participation is also essential to the site’s future because many individuals have either forgotten or neglected the SSFL’s significance and history.
The SSFL serves as a reminder of the negative aspects of the nuclear era as well as the fallout from incompetence, recklessness, and secrecy. It serves as a lesson for both the present and the future, since nuclear waste and technology continue to pose threats and difficulties to the world. The SSFL narrative still has much to tell and is one that should be heard.