Meltdown in the news

The July 26, 1959 accident at an experimental nuclear reactor above Chatsworth was only a partial meltdown. And while the full extent of radioactive releases wasn’t known for many years, there were news reports about the mishap within a month. Still, it’s always good to see the past events at the old Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory get more attention. There’s even a photo of the Sodium Reactor Experiment Containment Building that I had not seen before. From Living on Earth, “an independent media program” about the environment:

Chernobyl in the Ukraine, Windscale in the UK, and… the Santa Susana Field Lab in California. Those incidents are the top three releasers of radioactive iodine in nuclear power history. But number three slipped largely under the radar.The Boeing-Rocketdyne Nuclear Facility, also referred to as the Santa Susana Field Lab, is located about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, near the Simi Valley area. And in 1959, a clogged coolant channel in a 20-megawatt nuclear reactor lead to the melting of 30 percent of the fuel elements in the reactor core.

Iodine-131 – that is, radioactive iodine – was released in doses estimated up to 100 times that of Three Mile Island, enough to cause various types of cancers and thyroid abnormalities, particularly in children under the age of 15. And while radioactive iodine only has an eight day half life, that’s more than enough time to get into the local dairy cows and contaminate the milk supply.

The facility also released many other radioactive materials, as well as other toxic chemicals, over a period of years. After an eight-year-long court battle, more than 100 local residents reached a settlement with Boeing-Rocketdyne.

Audio of the story (requires Real Player.)

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