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Soil Contamination Caused by The Old Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field

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The current debate on nuclear weapons in the world is elicited by many incidences that have happened in the past. These incidences, like Chernobyl disaster, Santa Susana Rocketdyne field, and others have reminded the world that although nuclear energy is considered clean, it can have devastating effects on life.  Santa Susan Rocketdyne field accident happed more than five decades ago but the effects are felt even today. The meltdown of nuclear reactor at the field led to radio active emissions which have resulted to hundreds of cancers cases up to date. Laboratory data has shown that there was extensive soil and water pollution due to the 1959 disasters. This accident led to extensive water contamination than had been shown in previous studies.

Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field accident and effects

Santa Susana Field laboratory (SSFL) is one of the advanced rocket and nuclear reactor test sites that has been in use for more than five decades. Located 48 Km north of Los Angeles in California, SSFL was opened in 1940s to serve as government facility dedicated to development of nuclear reactors, rockets and systems that were to be used in powering Apollo missions.  The location of the facility was chosen due to its remoteness but human growth and expansion has seen people settling near the facility. Today, more than 150,000 people live at vicinity of the facility within a radius of 8 Km. Since it was opened it has  been a major contributor to development of nuclear power in the United States  but at the same time  it has come with devastating environmental and health effects.

Throughout its years of operation, SSFL has operated ten low power nuclear reactors. It also has a plutonium fuel fabrication facility and same facility for uranium carbide. For, long, the facility has been used to examine irradiated nuclear fuel using the hot lab facility.  In 1957, the hot lab facility suffered a major defect when a number of fires were caused by radioactive materials.  The fire flamed out of control leading to massing contamination that resulted to meltdown of nuclear reactor in 1959 and later in 1964 (Collins, 2009).  According to how the structures were designed, the rectors which were located on the ground were considered just for experimental purpose and therefore they did not have containment structures.  The meltdown of the structure led to release of contaminants to the soil which led to soil contamination and consequent contamination of ground water. This accident was kept out of public knowledge until 1979 which means most people could have been affected by the contaminants without their knowledge.

During the accident it is believed that TCE or Trichloroethylene which is a carcinogenic solvent mainly used in cleaning rocket engine was released to ponds and found its ways into soil and water.  It is estimated that during the 50’s and 60’s accidents at the field, there were more than 1.73 million gallons of the solvent  sluiced into ponds that had not been unlined and consequently more than a third of this amount found its way to the soil and later to ground water. Consequent tests carried out on water found out that rocket fuel oxidize was found to be 14 times higher in water that recommended safe for drinking. Results showed that percolates were as higher as 28 ppb in drinking water (VCReporter.com, 2009).

Like in any other disasters involving radio active materials, this accident had negative effects on the surrounding environment. It is estimated that contaminant materials were released to the environment leading to air and water pollution. A study released in 2006 in Los Angeles showed that the 1959 disaster could have more devastating effects than had been previously estimated. This study showed that the disaster could have led to hundreds of cancer cases that have not been studied before. This study estimated that the contaminant could have caused between 260 and 1,800 cancer cases over the decades (Felkins, 2009).

Currently there are government sponsored efforts which are aimed at cleaning up the environment to prevent further effects of the accident. It is very sad that more than five decades after the accident happened, the government is acting now to clean the environment and   make the area safe for those living around.  While the government cannot be entirely blamed for the accident, it has failed over the years to take responsibility of preventing the population around the area through provision of alternative settlement and clean uncontaminated water (Collins, 2009).  There is no route out of this problem but the government will need to clean up the mess caused by this disaster. There is also need to put in place policies that will guide actions to be taken in event of such accidents which are kept out of public knowledge for a long time. The government should be more vigilant to protect its people from private companies like Boeing and other like NASA that could have taken responsibility for this accident but has not done it for more than five decades.


Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field is one of the most important facilities that have facilitated development of nuclear power in the country. However, nuclear reactor disasters in 1959 and 1964 which were kept out of public limelight for many years erode the important of such facilities to the nation. These disasters had devastating effects on the environment and led to extensive soil and water contamination. Over the years, it is estimated that soil and water pollution due to these accidents has caused hundreds of cancer cases which means that accident had far reaching effects than had been previously estimated. In future the government should be more vigilant to protect its citizens from such accidents.

Work Cited:                                                  

Collins, M. (2009). State keeps Rocketdyne cleanup control. Retrieved 9th July 2009 from http://www.enviroreporter.com/StateKeepsRocketdyneCleanupControl.html

Felkins, M. (2009).  Study Says Lab Meltdown Caused Cancer. Retrieved 9th July 2009 from http://www.geocities.com/madelinefelkins/Hotlab.htm

VCReporter.com, (2009). Rocketydyne Ranch. Retrieved 9th July 2009 from http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:2JSDJU5i67wJ:enviroreporter.com/files/vcr_122002_rocketdyne_ranch_spec.pdf+evidence+of+soil+contamination+caused+by+the+old+Rocketdyne+Santa+Susana+field&hl=en

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