Years of mishandling dangerous radioactive materials and chemicals has also left a toxic legacy for generations of people living near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.
By Joel Grover and Matthew Glasser
September 22, 2015
Tucked away in the hills above the San Fernando and Simi valleys was a 2,800-acre laboratory with a mission that was a mystery to the thousands of people who lived in its shadow. In a place called Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), there was a secret collaboration between the U.S. government and private companies to test the limits of nuclear power.
For decades, scientists and staff at SSFL experimented with new types of nuclear reactors, advanced rocket systems and futuristic weapons. While this research helped launch Americans into space and provided a better understanding of nuclear power, years of mishandling dangerous radioactive materials and chemicals has also left a toxic legacy for generations of people living near the site. The scientists are now gone, but acres and acres of radioactive and chemical contamination remains right above the neighborhoods of thousands.
The NBC4 I-Team spent a year investigating the story of the Santa Susana Field Lab. Our work involved interviews with whistleblowers, an intense review of more than 15,000 pages of government, academic and corporate documents, and interviews with dozens of community members, experts and public officials. We now know these families have been living in the shadow of one of the nation’s worst nuclear disasters in history and for the first time, NBC4 is revealing LA’s Nuclear Secret.
The Santa Susana Field Lab occupies more than 2,800 acres in the rocky terrain of the Simi Hills at the intersection of Simi Valley and the West San Fernando Valley. It sits atop the Simi Hills overlooking Simi Valley to the north, Chatsworth, West Hills and Canoga Park to the east, Woodland Hills and Thousand Oaks to the south, and Moorpark to the west.
When the site was initially developed by North American Aviation, it was in a remote, but growing part of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Suburban housing developments were springing up nearby, but cows still roamed freely and local farms grew oranges and other produce.
But things have changed. Today, there are more than a half million people living within 10 miles of the site surrounded by dense suburban populations. Thousands live within two miles of the lab.
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