San Fernando Valley

The Valley's nuclear past

Santa Susana Field LabWith local media obsessing a bit this week on the 50th anniversary of the partial meltdown of an experimental nuclear reactor above Chatsworth, here's the first comprehensive news story on the 1959 incident — a four-part series on KNBC in 1979. (Today's Daily News feature mistakenly says the details didn't become public until ten years later.) Warren Olney, now the host of Which Way, L.A.? and To the Point on KCRW, did the stories with legendary Los Angeles TV news producer Pete Noyes. Olney emails LA Observed:

The series, building on the work of Michael Rose and Dan Hirsch, included footage obtained from federal film archives at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There was a lengthy discussion of how the meltdown occurred, including retouched photos of broken fuel rods inside the reactor core. An expert compared it to the reactor core at Three Mile Island, which had melted down a few months before the series ran. There was extensive discussion of the possible dangers from contamination in the adjacent area.

Rose, a student at UCLA when he began looking into the Santa Susana Field Laboratory accident, recounts the incident today on the Huffington Post. He calls it "a partial meltdown that would take over a month to control and has taken over 50 years to clean up at a cost of over $250-million and will take another 50,000 years to clear the released radiation from the groundwater." Only blind luck, he writes, averted "LA's Chernobyl." Hirsch is president of Committee to Bridge the Gap.

Also see: Michael Collins of EnviroReporter.com has reported extensively on the environmental legacy left behind at Santa Susana.

Side note: In 1957, TV legend Edward R. Murrow narrated a CBS News "See it Now" report on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory reactor achieving a new feat in the use of nuclear power: lighting the entire city of Moorpark. The incident 19 months later was covered up for years.


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