Pictured: Santa Susana Field Lab in Simi Valley. 

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

On May 20, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced an agreement with the state of California to oversee the first steps of cleaning up radioactive waste and other hazardous chemicals from the site of the 1959 partial nuclear meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Lab in Simi Valley. 

“I am truly hopeful for the first time that this highly toxic site will get cleaned up and done so with the public’s health placed above all else,” said Linda Parks, Ventura County Supervisor (Dist. 2). She said the cleanup of the site “is the number-one priority of my district,” and is fully supported by the entire board of supervisors. 

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the Department of Energy is committed to making real

and significant progress to meaningfully address the environmental legacy challenges from

decades of Cold War-era government research,” said Dan Brouillette, U.S. Secretary of Energy, in a written statement. “This agreement is an important step that demonstrates how DOE and California can collaborate to bring the . . . site to its final cleanup and completion.”

The new order, effective May 19,  requires the DOE to remove 10 buildings at the site, which were part of  the former Radioactive Materials Handling Facility complex, used for the processing, packaging and shipment of radioactive and mixed hazardous wastes. Eight buildings will remain for removal at a future time. Debris from the buildings will be disposed of out of state “to a low-level radioactive waste facility.” The demolition and removal will adhere to the consent orders signed in 2007 and 2010. 

The removal of these buildings was prioritized due to the risk of wildfire in the area.

“As long as buildings exist in Area IV that have hazardous and radiological contamination, future fires have the potential to damage the existing buildings, potentially resulting in a release of radioactive and hazardous substances,” the order states. “ Due to the vagaries of wind and weather, these radioactive and hazardous substances could migrate to air, soil, and sediments, potentially posing a threat to surrounding communities.”

The entire cleanup plan is contingent, however, on the availability of federal funds through the DOE’s budget. It is the responsibility of the DOE to notify the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) if funds are not available and provide a plan to “endeavor to secure additional funding to carry out the requirements of this Order.” 

“The surrounding communities have waited a long time for decisive action at the Santa Susana Field Lab and today’s Order represents a new and important chapter towards the full cleanup,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. 

This order follows over a decade of ineffective negotiations between Boeing, NASA, the DOE and the DTSC to enforce orders signed in 2007 and 2010, which required cleanup of the entire site to be completed by 2017.

Last year, Newsom appointed Jared Blumenfeld to the top office in the California Environmental Protection Agency. Blumenfeld quickly put pressure on the DTSC to get the site cleaned up, which completed a final closure plan, reviewing public comments received in 2018. That plan is expected to be complete within 60 days. 

Next cleanup steps include soil and groundwater at the site. 

For more information, visit the California Department of Toxic Substances Control at dtsc.ca.gov/sitecleanup/santa_susana_field_lab/.