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Venting for Weeks, Covering for Years

by siegestate Wed Aug 5th, 2009 at 06:11:24 AM EST

Lazy days in the San Fernando Valley. The towns of the east and center, Glendale, Burbank and Van Nuys, were populated with hundreds of thousands of people. But out here in the western end, we scanned the 1958 phone book data and were proud to have less than a hundred thousand in our patches of homes, built in grids among the ranches and fields of fruit trees and vegetables. We could run to the corner to get a large families worth of corn picked and shucked fresh to our order, have change left over from a dollar, and have it in a pot of boiling water 5 minutes later.

The burgeoning upward-trending, lower-middle-class, single-working-parent families of the fifties. Kids everywhere, baseball on the streets much of the year. Days so hot that we would literally fry eggs on the sidewalk for amusement, yet going barefoot was just the thing to do. Each summer afternoon my mother would turn on the back sprinklers and open the large sliding glass windows which opened the living room to our backyard. And those hot nights when school was starting back up, trying to fall asleep with the early September sky still bright and the house still radiating enough heat to make sheets too hot to use, getting to bed early so we could start back to school the next day.

Just up the other corner we could ride to open fields to pick on butterflies (for some unknown reason.) We would also race up there when we heard the sound of the train whistle as it entered the tunnel of the Santa Susanna Pass. When we were still tricycle riders we'd see the long train exiting, and as early teenagers we'd time when it came so we could run through the dark tunnel...innocent danger of the times. We'd climb those hills for days, trying to find the mysterious movie lot, or the rumored crazies who we were warned against, hills which would later produce the Manson Family.

But when the afternoon breeze picked up from the Santa Susanna Pass, it would bring a temporary coolness to the house...and as it turns out, it would bring other things.

Diary rescue by Migeru


We grew up proud of the dads who worked at the Rocketdyne plants, either down the street on the way to school, or up in the hills of the Pass. They would bring us pictures to tape on the wall, colored pictures of the huge rocket engines which we could hear being tested miles away on Friday nights.

But we knew nothing about nuclear venting. I only vaguely remember the company name Atomics International. Marking the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. nuclear meltdown

On the morning of July 14, 1959, Sodium Reactor Experiment trainee John Pace received the bad news from a group of supervisors who had, he recalled, "terribly worried expressions on their faces."

A reactor at the Atomics International field laboratory in the Santa Susana Mountains had experienced a power surge the night before and spewed radioactive gases into the atmosphere.

"They were terrified that some of the gas had blown over their own San Fernando Valley homes," recalled Pace, who was 20 at the time. "My job was to keep radiation out of the control room."

Pace set to work sealing doors and windows with clear packing tape and scrubbing the walls with sanitary napkins soaked with special chemicals because, he said, "soap and water wouldn't do the trick."

In August 1959, about five weeks after the accident, the Atomic Energy Commission published a press release indicating that "a parted fuel element had been observed," a reference to damage. But it added that there was no evidence of radioactive releases or unsafe operating conditions.

"They wanted to keep it secret," Pace said.

Lab officials kept switching the reactor off and on until July 26, when it was shut down and dismantled. There was evidence of melting in a third of the reactor's fuel elements.

For about two weeks, the facility, which employed several thousand people, had been venting colorless and odorless radioactive gas into the environment.

"Radioactivity levels during the accident went off-scale," said Dan Hirsch, a spokesman for the antinuclear group Committee to Bridge the Gap. "We thus do not know to this day how much radioactivity was released."

Details of the incident were not disclosed until 1979, when a group of UCLA students discovered documents and photographs that referred to a problem at the site involving a "melted blob."

The article goes on to reference official-speak by the current owners of the technology and facilities, Boeing. Ironic that they feel the need to use low-quality crap in their attempts at ass-covering, but they are probably juggling too many thickets of lies to even care much about a liability which they probably unknowingly bought into. They did put out a smiley face comment about a study they produced which said that our happy valley actually has less cancers and health problems than their control area...no doubt the circle of hell that their actual headquarters are in.

There is also a reference to a Dept of Energy Clean Up site, with a lot more happy talk, but no data that directly correlates to the Boeing-speak.

But I can summarize: Rest assured that everything is completely cleaned up now, and further, will be cleaned up by 2017, and that this "social cost after corporate profit" exercise is being done only so that we can have a web-site of purity, not that it needs to be done.

I continue to wonder filter data about what caused the Parkinson's disease that my mother got hit with 10 years later and suffered with until 10 years ago. I used to key on the diesel fuel from my grandfather's big-rig impregnating the dirt and dust at the old old house, or just the exhaust itself as the trigger for her problem. I also used to key on the TCEs and PCEs that the aerospace industry dumped into our water supply for many years. Now I have to do research into causations from vented nuclear gasses.

[editor's note, by siegestate]Edited to fix links and a typo or two.

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What a remarkable vignette. Kudos, and sorry.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat Jul 18th, 2009 at 01:10:56 PM EST
nice writing, siege..

i'm sorry about your mom, that's so sad.

another episode in the nuclear industry's ongoing, herculean effort to make it in the guinness book of records for the most egregiously mendacious and irresponsible industry ever...

this diary reminds us of how toxic has become normal, and how the butterfly of human health is broken on the wheel of greed.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Jul 18th, 2009 at 08:29:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks to you both.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 06:40:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I had heard about the TCEs but not about the failed nuclear reactor.  I have no information on radiation as a factor in Parkinson's.  Is there any family history that cannot be explained by such exposure?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 12:15:00 AM EST
I just found a terrific site which documents this nuclear "event" with a marvelous 1979 television news reports about it. Committee To Bridge the Gap

Here is another current report in the Huffington Post - Los Angeles Nuclear Meltdown Anniversary

I, as well, was surprised to find out about our own personal meltdown, and then surprised to find this video of it...I guess that its importance was lost in the noise of the then recent Three Mile Island news.

I've seen educated people mock the TCE and PCE problems in the San Fernando Valley water table, making fun of parts per billion-as if that would ever affect them and why are we picking on such good companies for such obviously little problems.

I imagine that some will gloss over the nuclear venting as well, some will consider it another failure on the chain for nuclear's malevolent history. Part of my thinking process went the same way that one of the engineer's in the video went...so many other things, like the famous smog of that region, drunk driving, etc., which are part of "modern life" impact us more and for which we should be marching on the street to end.

What strikes me is that engineers with families in the area were willing to crank the dial back up to Yippee~! hours after having such a series of failures, and for weeks. There had to have been word from some Dr. Strangelove above, some Cold War, "What a great opportunity, I'll be a hero if I can get breeding to work" nutcase with some such thinking.

~~~

My mom was hit with early onset Parkinson's when she was in her 30s. Being close enough to UCLA, she partook in a number of early experimental trials, both with drug therapies and later with brain surgeries at other facilities. It's been an active area of research around the world, with little tid-bits of knowledge gleaned every once in a while, mostly educated guesses...and it seems, most often gained by failures.

At no time did anyone find anything on the reason side. No trace of the disease was found earlier in her history. None of my siblings have shown any signs, or their kids. The eldest of us is just approaching 60, so we are conscious of every hand quiver, but so far, so good.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 06:34:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The correct links referenced above are:

Committee To Bridge the Gap

Los Angeles Nuclear Meltdown Anniversary

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 10:33:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My grandmother died of Parkinsons disease.  My family was in denial until the end.  Only well after the fact did I find out that Parkinsons can be caused by DDT--and that was most likely the cause in her case, for the town where she lived in southwest Wisconsin bordered a swamp and was therefore thoroughly sprayed with DDT at least twice a week (right through the 1950s and early 1960s) in summer to keep down the mosquitos . . .

I have not come across anything relating radiation exposure to Parkinsons, but many, many chemicals have been implicated as causes, so you might want to check in to what chemicals the aerospace companies in your area were using.  You would be surprised at the horrific toxins seemingly innocuous industrial processes use for very boring or mundane tasks like degreasing, &c.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Aug 4th, 2009 at 09:01:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A great sketch of fifties' family life... then, horror. I'm sorry to hear what followed.

Can I help you with the links? What did you want to link to? (They all have a problem).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 07:57:10 AM EST
Thanks.

And thanks for pointing out the link problem. They're fixed now.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 10:22:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I just read through your two links.  My God!!  I lived in the SFV in 1969 and from 1979 to 2006 and I have never heard of their being a power generating nuclear reactor at Santa Susana.  When I read your diary the first time, I thought the discussion concerned a small scale reactor such as those that were on college campuses at the time.

How much power was this thing designed to produce?  Liquid sodium without containment at a commercially useful size in an area with a population in the millions!  Strangelove indeed!  It is stunning that this happened and was concealed in plain sight for so long.  I recall reading about the Santa Susana Lab needing cleanup, but always in the context of PCE and TCE from rocket tests.  I am certain that insiders who were involved in the clean-up controversy were aware of the radioactive contamination but remained quiet about it.  A congressional investigation is in order.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 at 11:30:15 AM EST
I am certain that insiders who were involved in the clean-up controversy were aware of the radioactive contamination but remained quiet about it.  A congressional investigation is in order.

Good point, indeed. For it is this type of treasonous behavior that goes on, heavily justified by the doers on all tangents and repeated in ever expanding sequences. The secrecy of nukes and cold war activities were hand in glove, the outrage against the concept of an open democracy.

I'll write something up which can be sent to the great protectors of our freedoms in Washington and show it to the group for editing, unless you have some ideas. Thanks for the thought.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Mon Jul 20th, 2009 at 03:43:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow!!! I did not know of this accident until right now...

And your description of life there in the 50's - double wow - so exactly like it was. My dad was the chief aeronautical engineer for Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, and he spent a lot of time at Santa Susanna. I lived in Northeast Canoga Park when I was six, up against the mountains, and when there were still orange groves and asparagus fields. Then we moved over to West Canoga Park, right next to Pierce College. Hot weather, baseball (and all sports) all day every day, playing in the water, exploring the hills behind Pierce when they were putting all the houses (Pierce was just bungalows then). I also remember the constant small earthquakes, the regular sound of the rocket engine tests, and the ash that fell from the sky from the brush fires every fall. Remember all that? Stirring up some ghosts for me!!

My dad had been transferred twice to Neosho, Missouri by Rocketdyne, and that is where we were in summer of 1959 - so we weren't around for the actual meltdown. But one does wonder, just how many people's health were effected by that accident? Maybe there needs to be a third movie of Chinatown, this time including the secret meltdown.

Great diary - thank you - and very sorry to here about your mom. Makes me wonder - my father died of a sudden heart attach at age 46 in 1964- he worked a lot up at Santa Susanna testing the rocket engines...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Tue Jul 21st, 2009 at 04:26:58 AM EST
Zounds...we were separately all over the same places together.

Those small earthquakes...weren't those great? - like gusts of wind eventually. One got a badge of honor for playing right through them.

Our portion of San Fernando Valley history was/is, of course, a grand beneficiary, a microcosm manifestation of the American Occupation, writ large; enormous private gain hidden amongst some public's gain (always alleged more than actual.)

Having taken over the rapacious responsibilities of the 19th-century Spaniards, none were better than the turn-of-the-20th-century Angeleno Anglos. And none were better suited to the hero-rapist role than William Mulholland, who brought water to the desert of the San Fernando Valley. He carries all the sins of urban sprawl, and we got the joys, the memories...and whatever woes we choose to carry.  

I sit now in another naturally arid land, near the similar tragic scenes of Jeanne de Florette and Manon des Sources, and the similar childhood joys of La Gloire de Mon Père (My Father's Glory) and Le Château de Ma Mère (My Mother's Castle). I resist the temptation of tying in the tragic story happening now in the towns and countries Jerusalem-adjacent, and go back to work.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Jul 26th, 2009 at 08:16:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Those small earthquakes...weren't those great?

After the Northridge quake of '94 I got so that, were I seated during an aftershock, I could call out the amplitude to a tenth of a point.  I joked about having a calibrated ass.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Aug 4th, 2009 at 08:38:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember the same feeling the day after that one. While picking up all the spilled items in the kitchen, a 5.9 aftershock comes by and we ignored it except to call out our guesses.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Tue Aug 4th, 2009 at 08:22:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Manon do i love those films.

and i also had a calibrated quake sense.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Aug 4th, 2009 at 11:30:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Manon, indeed.

Mother's Castle and Father's Glory had been difficult to get, but now they are available in DVD with english subtitles...which I verily need.

Knowing a little of your California history, I imagine that you were around for quakes in southern and northern CA. Does it seem like the every ~10 year, once in the north/once in the south cycle is freakishly delayed?

No jokes about how good a giant repair project would be for the economy, but I bet the people of California would at least accept doctors from Cuba in a disaster.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Wed Aug 5th, 2009 at 03:29:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
small earthquakes - never stopped playing!!

And Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources - tow great movies! Just found them on DVD, after a long search...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 06:18:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Trichloroethylene--degreaser:  very nasty, implicated in brain cancers--no, wikipedia does not have this mentioning only kidney and liver--based on cancer clusters in exposed workers in a turbine manufacturing plant a town over from me.  

Perchloroethylene = tetrachloroethylene--implicated in lukemia specifically in exposed workers in Woburn Massachusetts.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Aug 4th, 2009 at 09:44:17 PM EST
"Implicated" as in "has been studied as a possible risk factor" as in "has been indicated by a number of individual studies" or as "has been confirmed by one or more epidemiological metastudies?"

There is something of a difference between "not proven to be safe" and "proven to be unsafe." The former is true for most industrial chemicals, thanks to the sad joke that is our health and environmental regulation of the chemical industry. The latter is true for a substantially smaller number of chemicals.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Aug 5th, 2009 at 05:37:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
--just for example--and use common sense.  If you have a cancer cluster, you have a problem.  Yes, tracking down the particular chemical at fault can be difficult.  

If you have a valid study, fine, but I have seen enough fraudulent studies not to put too much faith in them.  

Burden of proof is on the chemical, always.  I know that that is not the legal standard, but why should chemicals have more rights than humans?  That makes no sense to me at all and I don't buy it.  

To your point:  Implicated as in others have had bad luck with this chemical and you should think twice--you may fare no better.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Aug 5th, 2009 at 05:56:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We are completely on the same page when it comes to the industry's burden of proof. But if you're trying to track down the risk factors in an individual patient history, then "exposure to untested industrial chemicals" is not helpful.

If you have a bunch of cancer clusters around exposures to a certain chemical or cocktail of chemicals, then chances are that it has been sliced, diced and analysed seven ways to Sunday already. A PubMed search should bring up something, at the very least.

If it hasn't, I'd suggest you write an e-mail to an oncologist at the local research hospital to tell her about the cluster and the absence of PubMed studies. She'll be grateful - there's at least three or four papers in each of those clusters, and if you have several then you can make a couple of metastudies too. Even if she doesn't have time to do it herself, it's an easy way to pad the resumés of her grad students.

And there is no such thing as a "nasty" chemical or a "safe" chemical. All chemicals are dangerous if they are not handled appropriately. Common household chemicals like hydrogen peroxide or caustic soda can be extremely dangerous if they are not handled with due care. Conversely, even TATP or liquid nitroglycerin (the classic "nasty chemicals" of the "stuff goes boom" variety) are perfectly safe as long as they are handled with due care. Granted, "due care" may mean "by a remote-operated robot in an explosion-proof box." But that is not an insurmountable hurdle for an industrial assembly line.

The problem is that a lot of chemicals have never been adequately studied to determine what "due care" means. And, of course, that even when they have been adequately studied, there's always a fucker somewhere who cuts corners on due diligence because he's cheap or lazy and the fine is not very big. But that is a law enforcement problem, just like muggers with kitchen knives are a problem with muggers, not a problem with kitchen knives.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Aug 5th, 2009 at 06:29:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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