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US Army Corps of Engineers – (USACE)

USACE directly supports the military at the front, making expertise available to commanders to help solve and avoid engineering and other problems. Forward Engineer Support Teams may accompany combat engineers to provide immediate support, or to reach back electronically into the rest of the Corps for the necessary expertise. Corps professionals use the knowledge and skills honed on both military and civil projects to support the US and local communities in the areas of real estate, contracting, mapping, construction, logistics, engineering, and management experience. This work currently includes support for rebuilding Iraq, establishing Afghanistan infrastructure, and supporting international and interagency services.

In addition, the work of almost 34,000 civilians on civil works programs throughout USACE provide a training ground for similar capabilities worldwide. USACE civilians volunteer for assignments worldwide. For example, hydropower experts have helped repair, renovate, and run hydropower dams in Iraq in an effort to help get Iraqis to become self-sustaining.[4][5]

* More than 90 percent of the USACE construction contracts have been awarded to Iraqi-owned businesses – offering employment opportunities, boosting the economy, providing jobs, and training, promoting stability and security where before there was none. Consequently, the mission is a central part of the U.S. exit strategy.

* Completed over 4,400 infrastructure projects in Iraq at an estimated cost of $6.5 billion and over 500 projects ($2.6 billion) are ongoing: school projects (324,000 students), crude oil production 3 million barrels per day (480,000 m³/d), potable water projects (3.9 million people (goal 5.2 million)), fire stations, border posts, prison/courthouse improvements, transportation/communication projects, village road/expressways, railroad stations, postal facilities, and aviation projects.

* At work in more than 90 countries (while the US infrastructure kills and maims through their neglect, incompetence, dereliction of duty, and by abuse of the authority, resources and office they’ve been given. – my note)

* Gulf Region Division (Provisional) (GRD) (Operation IRAQI FREEDOM), located in Baghdad, Iraq.[5] Its three districts are in North, Central, and South Iraq. There are more than 4,600 projects in the works with more than 4,000 completed through 2007. GRD is staffed primarily by civilian volunteers from throughout USACE.
* Afghanistan Engineer District (Provisional) (AED) (Operation ENDURING FREEDOM), located in Kabul, Afghanistan.[5] The Corps of Engineers built much of the original Ring Road in the early 1960s and returned in 2002 Supports the full spectrum of regional support, including the Afghan National Security Forces, US and Coalition Forces, Counter Narcotics and Border Management, Strategic Reconstruction support to USAID, and the Commander’s Emergency Response Program. AED is also primarily staffed by civilian volunteers from throughout USACE.

[from – ]


In both its Civil Works mission and Military Construction program, the Corps is responsible for billions of dollars of the nation’s infrastructure. For example, the Corps maintains direct control 609 dams, maintains and/or operates 257 navigation locks, and operates 75 hydroelectric facilities generating 24% of the nation’s hydropower and three percent of its total electricity. USACE inspects over 2,000 Federal and non-Federal levees every two years. (my note- but 90% of the contracts and hundreds of billions of dollars intended for our infrastructure restoration and repair are going to Iraq and Afghanistan.)


The Headquarters group defines policy and guidance and plans direction for the organizations within the Corps. It is made up of an Executive Office and 17 Staff Principals.[1] Located in Washington, DC, the Headquarters creates policy and plans the future direction of all other Corps organizations.

USACE has two directors who head up Military Programs and Civil Works.

* Steve Stockton, Director of Military Programs.
* Joe Tyler, Director of Civil Works

Colonel Debra Lewis, the Gulf Region Division Central District commander with Sheik O’rhaman Hama Raheem, an Iraqi councilman, celebrate the opening of a new women’s center in Assriya Village that the Corps helped construct in 2006.

(while they tell us there is no money for our dams to be repaired, our bridges and water systems to be brought up to a basic standard of safety and entire system is in dangerous disrepair and inadequacy. – my note)


“America Betrayed” documentary 2008

About the movie

From 9/11, to the war in Iraq, to the worst disaster in U.S. history, the levee failures in Hurricane Katrina, America Betrayed follows the money, and the path leads straight back to the hallowed halls of Congress… the profits straight into the pockets of those with ties to the Executive Branch.

America Betrayed is the story of waste, fraud, and abuse at the very highest echelons of our federal government. Through interviews with Pulitzer Prize winning journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and TIME Magazine, to noted scientists from Berkeley and Harvard, to U.S. Senators and Congressman, America Betrayed takes an in-depth look at just how our government’s dirty little secrets have impeded an investigation into 9/11 and nearly ruined a great American city…New Orleans.

The gloves are off, and the inside story is being told, as longtime broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker Leslie Cardé talks for the first time with insiders who know exactly how the game is played.

From the contractors who built sub-standard structures in New Orleans and were told to “keep quiet”, to the whistleblowers who sacrificed their jobs to come forward and expose the cover-ups, cooked books, and cronyism nationwide within the Army Corps of Engineers, this film digs deep to unearth the truth.

While scientists charged with investigating the Katrina disaster were intentionally led astray, journalists dug their heels in to get to the root of “disaster capitalism”,a process by which government insiders cash in with emergency no-bid contracts, in times of national stress.

America Betrayed clearly exposes our government’s misappropriation of funds in spending its citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars on rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure, while the bridges, dams, levees and highways in this country are crumbling. America Betrayed is a cautionary tale for those who trust their government, and hopefully a wake-up call to change the status quo in Washington.



Be prepared to pull your hair out, 2 July 2009

Author: Roland E. Zwick (magneteach@aol.com) from United States

If you’re looking for a movie to really get your blood boiling, search no further than “America Betrayed,” a shocking and revelatory documentary that examines the deplorable condition that much of our nation’s infrastructure is in at the moment.

Writer/director Leslie Carde finds her villain in the US Army Corps of Engineers, an agency whose primary aim is supposed to be that of protecting the nation’s citizenry from potential disasters caused by the structural failure of dams, bridges, levees, buildings etc.

Instead, the Corps, in cahoots with the many politicians and congressmen who work right along with it, has been found, over and over again, to be derelict in its duties – guilty of negligence, of employing harmful cost-cutting measures, of having misplaced priorities, of engaging in outright deception, and of brokering sweetheart deals with pet contractors.

The movie is unsparing in its treatment of the Corps, and Carde clearly views it as her own personal mission to hold that organization accountable for the many acts of criminal malfeasance it has engaged in over the years. I think it speaks volumes that no member of the Corps was willing to be interviewed for this film.

The movie chooses as its focal point the catastrophic failure of the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in the almost complete annihilation of one of America’s premier cities. Interviewee after interviewee refers to Katrina not as a “natural” disaster but as a man-made one. And given the facts as Carde lays them out for us, the film makes a very convincing case for that argument.

The scenes set in New Orleans – both during the hurricane and in the wake of its aftermath – are heartbreaking in the extreme. But it isn’t just in New Orleans that the problem lies. The movie makes it clear that there are literally hundreds of other potentially dangerous levees and dams scattered throughout the country, most notably in the earthquake-prone Central Valley region of California. And that isn’t even taking into account all the aging, structurally unsound bridges, sewer systems, roadways, etc. that are also threatening to give way at any moment – as exemplified by the Minnesota bridge collapse that resulted in the deaths of thirteen people on August 1, 2007.

Most galling, perhaps, is the fact that so many of the funds that could have been earmarked for retrofitting projects here in the U.S. have been diverted to similar projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Carde’s work extends far beyond the issue of infrastructure; she views this as merely a symbol of the much greater failure of government overall, of our unwillingness as a nation to value the safety of our people over corporate profit and special interest deal-making.

“America Betrayed” is indeed a powerful and important social document – but be prepared to seethe.



* Structural Flood Control
o Flood Control Act of 1928 which holds the corps exempt from financial liability should their flood control structures fail


(And who paid for this stuff – US taxpayers, our families, our pocketbooks, our sacrifices – )


Inspection Party, 1952

Congress authorized Buford Dam for construction in 1946 as part of the overall development of the nation’s waterways after the Second World War.

The river and harbor legislation that came out of Congress during this time period was targeted at developing the nation’s rivers systems for national defense, flood control, power production, navigation and water supplies.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was involved in hundreds of projects all over the United States, as the scope of this massive undertaking was unprecedented.

Funding for construction first appeared on the horizon for the project in late 1949 as part of a multi-million dollar public works appropriation for the State of Georgia which saw $750,000.00 go to Buford Dam. This money was used to complete the initial planning and design phases of the project such as the powerhouse design and for the start of construction. The ground breaking was held on the Gwinnett County side of the future dam site on March 1, 1950.

Excavation for Powerhouse, 1951

Hundreds of people from all over North Georgia braved the cold damp weather conditions to make the trek along the water soaked muddy roads to get to the groundbreaking ceremony. The work on the three saddle dikes, main earth dam, powerhouse, as well as bridge & highway relocation and construction would take over seven years. Although the work would be completed by private companies they would have to follow government specifications agreed to at the time the contracts were awarded.

During this time period the government would also have to acquire the rights to over 56,000 acres of land and see to the relocation of over 700 families. This was necessary in order to prepare the land for a 38,000-acre reservoir with over 692 miles of shoreline. The government followed strict guidelines spelled out in the “River and Harbor Act” legislation in acquiring private property for public use. Careful attention was paid in removing homes, barns, wells, fencing, and other physical property to prevent navigation hazards on the lake in the future. This one aspect of the project’s construction had a price tag of over 19 million dollars. Most property was purchased for between $25 and $75 per acre. When complete, the total cost of the project’s construction, including the acquisition of land related items, was nearly 45 million dollars.

Construction of penstocks, 1953

On February 1, 1956 the gates of the intake structure were closed on the lakeside of the dam starting the slow process of creating the reservoir that was eventually named Lake Sidney Lanier after the Georgia born poet and musician who died in the 1880’s. It took over three years for the lake to record its normal elevation of 1070 feet above sea level for the first time on May 25, 1959. The dedication was held on top of the intake structure parking lot on October 9, 1957.



My Note – even the Corps of Engineers admission of this history refers to drinking water / civilian water needs in the purposes of the Lanier reservoir. But, no – not according to a district judge who favored the shellfish over the needs of people and their children.


4:47 p.m. Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sewage plants swamped in Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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The record rains of the past few days flooded out sewage treatment plants in Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties, dumping millions of gallons of untreated sewage into local waterways.

So, water already polluted by oil and gasoline, trash, pesticides and other ground contaminants will also be carrying debris and bacteria from human waste.

The greatest damage occurred at Atlanta’s R.M. Clayton plant — the largest in the southeastern U.S. — which was swamped by at least four feet of water Tuesday when the Chattahoochee River surged more than 12 feet beyond flood level.

City officials said they’d seek federal help to repair potentially “tens of millions of dollars” in damages. They could not even estimate when the plant, which can treat as much as 240 million gallons of sewage a day, would be fixed.

“It’s sad,” said George Barnes, with Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management. “And, it’s going to take a heck of an effort to get it back in service. We can’t even get out there to do anything.”

The city, Barnes said, can’t even begin pumping out water from the plant until the flood recedes. Because of its low elevation, any water pumped out would just pour back in, he said.

“I’ve been around since 1968 and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Barnes said.

The flood that took out Atlanta’s Clayton plant also swamped Cobb County’s R.L. Sutton water treatment plant, which sits across the river in south Cobb. Officials there said the plant was “partially treating” sewage before dumping into the Chattahoochee.

Meanwhile, Gwinnett officials lost service at the Yellow River Water Reclamation Facility near Lilburn, which was underwater. They said Tuesday it would be two days before repairs could begin. The facility takes in wastewater flows from Lawrenceville, Norcross and some areas in between.

In Atlanta, the rains were so severe that the water swamped the entire tunnel system the city has built over the past several years to limit sewage overflows. The work was part of the $4.1 billion overhaul of Atlanta’s antiquated water/sewer system.

“I’d hate to think how bad things would be if it weren’t for the tunnels,” said Janet Ward, watershed spokeswoman.

Barnes said the $131 million Nancy Creek sewage tunnel was overwhelmed by inflow of rainwater into old, leaky sewer pipes. So, the 8-mile tunnel has been overflowing a combination of raw sewage and rainwater, Barnes said.

The tunnel, he noted, also runs to the Clayton plant, which is off line from the flood.

The rains also flooded the city’s $190 million deep storage tunnel for combined sewage. The 8.5 mile-long east tunnel has been the most controversial part of the city’s pipe overhaul. It holds 177 million gallons of combined sewage, which are normally treated at a separate plant on the R.M. Clayton site.

Barnes said that plant has not flooded and continued to operate Tuesday. However, he said the full tunnel has allowed combined sewage to spill from combined sewage overflow facilities around the city.

All the flooding did not impact Atlanta’s drinking water intake, just up river from the Clayton sewage treatment plant, officials said.

That doesn’t mean the flooded plants aren’t a health hazard. The damaged plants around metro Atlanta continue to dump untreated, or not-fully-treated sewage into floodwaters that then end up rising into homes and businesses.

“This is a tragedy,” said Atlanta Councilwoman Carla Smith, who heads the council’s utilities committee. “We’ve gotten way to much water all at the same time.”

Staff writers Pat Fox and Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.

My Note –
I know that bridges, bridge supports, concrete and cement of any kind deteriorates and becomes chemically brittle / unbonded when subjected to sitting in a cesspool of water, sewage, piss, industrial chemicals, gasoline, natural gas residues, and other industrial waste products. How hard is it to figure out that a bridge support that has sat in that pollution stew for three – five days is no longer of the same integrity that it had when it was built. Its only a matter of time before the vibrations from hundreds of thousands of vehicles crossing those concrete piers will make the problem self-evident. Will it really be fixed before that failure, in Georgia – in Cobb County – in Atlanta – anywhere in the US, for that matter? What are they doing to check the integrity of these bridges – eyeballing them and pinging them with a hammer?
– cricketdiane

Constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950’s, Lake Lanier is a multi-purpose lake that provides for flood protection, power production, water supply, navigation, recreation and fish and wildlife management.

Lake Lanier is one of 464 lakes in 43 states constructed and operated by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. It has won the best operated lake of the year award in 1990, 1997 and 2002.

My Note –
So what it means is that every taxpayer dollar that was intended to take care of public projects, public works, corps of engineers projects which we paid to build, dams, reservoirs, levees, erosion control, bridges, waterways, drinking water, rivers, military buildings and runways, along with whatever repairs and maintenance and safety issues to bring them up to code – every one of those dollars are no longer available to do those things adequately. But, that is a lot of water sitting behind those dams with people on the down river side of them.
Hundreds of thousands of people use those bridges, sit protected (or not) by those levees and dams, are forced to use the corps and nothing else by law and by funding. It is insane that the psychotic megalomaniacs at the top of our country’s seats of power criminally diverted those funds and resources to use for their friends profits and to provide resources in other countries and to pay for things that businesses should have paid for since it was to benefit them – such as dredging the Panama Canal or the new dredging of the Savannah River in Georgia.
And, the idea that the Corps of Engineers is environmentally conscientious – is the sorriest, most pathetic joke of all. They are the ones who insisted on justifying the use of kudzu throughout the Southeast as erosion control despite it being an invasive species that completely destroyed the natural species, forests and natural habitat permanently. They are the ones who give permits to dredge and to fill as they see fit with complete disregard for the wildlife and permanent changes they are making in the environment. And, on and on and on.
There isn’t an engineering mind among the bunch of them who is capable of making a sound and conscientious, responsible choice in the manner that engineers and scientists in every discipline make every single day. But, no – not the corps of engineers – they can’t be bothered with that. They and their crony politician friends and business interests are nothing more than serial killers with shovels and an open back pocket to take in the profits. They all ought to be made to live below the dams they didn’t fix – beside the levees they fixed half-ass and surrounded by whatever toxic waste they didn’t adequately clean up. And the politicians and their business / executive friends ought to have to live in the same shit they caused, right alongside them.
If I guessed – I would bet these jackasses were in the clean-up and decision making on this one, too – its going to be turned into a park for picnics . . .
and day-hikes . . .
and fishing . . .
and glow-in-the-dark . . .

From October 2004 to January 2006, wastewater and storm water runoff coming from the lab had increased levels of chromium, dioxin, lead, mercury and other pollutants, the water board said. The contaminated water flowed into Bell Creek and the Los Angeles River in violation of a July 1, 2004 permit – [see Santa Susana sodium reactor site that is contaminated in Los Angeles, (San Fernando Valley) which is being turned into a park for day hikes and picnics. wikipedia entry below about it – ]

(A little about the Santa Susana Boeing / Rocketdyne / sodium nuclear reactor / rocket works site excerpted from on post below Corps of Engineers information about their jurisdiction in cleaning up the site – )

In 1989, DOE found widespread chemical and radioactive contamination at the site, and a cleanup program commenced. In 1995 EPA and DOE announced that they had entered into a Joint Policy Agreement to assure that all DOE sites would be cleaned up to standards consistent with EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) standards, also known as Superfund.

However, in March 2003, DOE reversed its position and announced that SSFL would not be cleaned up to EPA Superfund standards. While DOE simultaneously claimed compliance with the 1995 Joint Policy Agreement, the new plan included a cleanup of only 1% of the contaminated soil, and the release of SSFL for unrestricted residential use in as little as ten years.
The report also concluded that the SRE meltdown (at the Santa Susana site) caused the release of more than 458 times the amount of radiation released at Three Mile Island.[1]

On October 15, 2007, Boeing announced that “In a landmark agreement between Boeing and California officials, nearly 2,400 acres (10 km2) of land that is currently Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory will become state parkland. According to the plan jointly announced Friday by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Boeing and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the property will be donated and preserved as a vital undeveloped open-space link in the Santa Susana Mountains above Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley. (For picnics and dayhikes as mentioned below, with Boeing relieved of financial responsibility for the cleanup after purchasing the assets of Rocketdyne who made the mess and operating illegal methods of toxic cleanup of the site. – my note)

From the wikipedia entry – the Corps of Engineers is responsible for the radioactive cleanup –

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental mission has two major focus areas: restoration and stewardship. The Corps supports or manages numerous environmental programs, that run the gamut from cleaning up areas on former military installations contaminated by hazardous waste or munitions to helping establish/reestablish wetlands that helps endangered species survive.[11] Some of these programs include Ecosystem Restoration, Formerly Used Defense Sites, Environmental Stewardship, EPA Superfund, Abandoned Mine Lands, Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, Base Realignment and Closure, 2005, and Regulatory.

This mission includes education as well as regulation and cleanup.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a very active environmental program under both its Military and Civil Programs.[11] The Civil Works environmental mission that ensures all Corps projects, facilities and associated lands meet environmental standards. The program has four functions: compliance, restoration, prevention, and conservation. The Corps also regulates all work in wetlands and waters of the United States.

The Military Programs Environmental Program manages design and execution of a full range of cleanup and protection activities:

A member of the Radiation Safety Support Team wearing Tyvek tests excavated soil.

  • cleans up sites contaminated with hazardous waste, radioactive waste, or ordnance
  • complies with federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations
  • strives to minimize our use of hazardous materials
  • conserves our natural and cultural resources

The following are major areas of environmental emphasis:

  • Wetlands and Waterways Regulation and Permitting
  • Ecosystem Restoration
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Radioactive site cleanup through the Formerly Used Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP)
  • Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)
  • Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS)
  • Support to EPA’s Superfund Program

See also Environmental Enforcement below.


Santa Susana Field Laboratory

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SSFL administrative areas and surrounding communities.

1990 Aerial view of the Energy Technology Engineering Center located in Area IV

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is a once prolific rocket and nuclear reactor test facility located 30 miles (48 km) north of downtown Los Angeles, California. SSFL continues to operate today, serving as a research facility for The Boeing Company. The first commercial nuclear-power producing reactor (the Sodium Reactor Experiment) inside the United States was built at SSFL. The SRE came online in April 1957, and began feeding electricity to the grid on July 12, 1957. The reactor powered over 1,100 homes in the Moorpark area of California for a short period of time. Today, all nuclear research and most rocket testing has been halted.

Various research initiatives, such as the development of the Saturn rockets that powered the Apollo missions, the rockets that powered the vast ballistic missile arsenal of the United States during the Cold War years, and even a program to develop nuclear reactors for use in outer space were undertaken at the facility.




Founded in the mid-1940s, SSFL was slated as a United States government facility dedicated to the development and testing of nuclear reactors, powerful rockets like the Delta II, and the systems that powered the Apollo missions. The location of SSFL was chosen for its remoteness in order to conduct work that was considered too dangerous to be performed in more densely populated areas. In subsequent years however, Southern California’s population mushroomed. Today, more than 150,000 people live within 5 miles (8 km) of the facility, and at least half a million people live within 10 miles (16 km). The area is south of Sage Ranch Park.

At a size of 2,850 acres (11 km2), SSFL is situated on top of the Simi Hills, overlooking Simi Valley to the north, Chatsworth, Canoga Park, and the West Hills areas of the San Fernando Valley — a densely populated area on the northernmost border of Los Angeles’ city limits — to the south.

The site is divided into four areas, (area I, II, III, IV). Areas I through III were used for rocket testing, missile testing, and munitions development. Area IV was used primarily for nuclear reactor experimentation and development. Laser research for the Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as “Star Wars”), was also conducted in Area IV.


North American Aviation (NAA) began its development of liquid propellant rocket engines after the end of WWII. The Rocketdyne division of NAA, which came into being under its own name in the mid-1950s, designed and tested several rocket engines at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory located in the mountains northwest of Chatsworth, California. They included engines for the Army’s Redstone (an advanced short-range copy of the German V-2), and the Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) as well as the Air Force’s counterpart IRBM, the Thor. Also included were engines for the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), as well as the twin combustion chamber alcohol/liquid oxygen booster engine for the NAVAHO, a large, intercontinental cruise missile that never became operational. Later, Rocketdyne designed and tested the huge F-1 engine that was eventually used as one of a cluster of engines powering the Apollo booster, as well as the J-2 liquid oxygen/hydrogen upper stage engine also used on the Project Apollo spacecraft.[1]

Nuclear facilities and accidents

This worker is John Pace helping align equipment over the SRE reactor core after the meltdown. His hat reads: “Your safety is our business, Atomics International.”

Throughout the years, approximately ten low-power nuclear reactors operated at SSFL, in addition to several “critical facilities”: a sodium burn pit in which sodium-coated objects were burned in an open pit; a plutonium fuel fabrication facility; a uranium carbide fuel fabrication facility; and purportedly the largest “Hot Lab” facility in the United States at the time. (A Hot Lab is a facility used for remotely cutting up irradiated nuclear fuel.) Irradiated nuclear fuel from other Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Department of Energy (DOE) facilities from around the country were shipped to SSFL to be decladded and examined.

Snap SSFL reactor picture.jpg

The Hot Lab suffered a number of fires involving radioactive materials. For example, in 1957, a fire in the Hot Cell “got out of control and … massive contamination” resulted. (see: NAA-SR-1941, Sodium Graphite Reactor, Quarterly Progress Report, January-March 1957). Another radioactive fire occurred in 1971, involving combustible primary reactor coolant (NaK) contaminated with mixed fission products. (see: Rockwell International, Nuclear Operations at Rockwell’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory — A Factual Perspective, September 6, 1991).

At least four of the ten nuclear reactors suffered accidents. The AE6 reactor experienced a release of fission gases in March 1959, the SRE experienced a power excursion and partial meltdown in July 1959; the SNAP8ER in 1964 experienced damage to 80% of its fuel; and the SNAP8DR in 1969 experienced similar damage to one-third of its fuel. (see “Reactor accident sources” below).

Unfortunately, the reactors located on the grounds of SSFL were considered experimental, and therefore had no containment structures. Reactors and highly radioactive components were housed without the large concrete domes that surround modern power reactors.

Sodium Reactor Experiment

The Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) was an experimental nuclear reactor which operated from 1957 to 1964. On July 12, 1957, its electrical generating system produced the first electricity generated from a nuclear power system to supply a commercial power grid by powering homes in the nearby city of Moorpark. In July 1959, internal cooling channels within the reactor became obstructed by a contaminant causing 13 of 43 reactor fuel elements to partially melt.[2] The reactor was repaired and returned to operation in September, 1960 and completed operations in February 1964.[3] The reactor and support systems were removed in 1981 and the building torn down in 1999.

The 1959 incident caused the release of radioactive gasses from the fuel elements. Reports and other documentation prepared by the reactor operators (Atomics International) shortly after the incident indicate the gasses were collected, monitored, contained, allowed to decay to acceptable limits then released to the atmosphere over a period of about two months all in compliance with the requirements in effect at the time.[4] In 2004, an analysis of the 1959 incident was prepared to support a lawsuit against the Boeing Company. The analysis concludes the SRE incident may have released up to 260 times more radioactive iodine-131 than the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. Boeing maintains that only a much smaller amount of only xenon-133 and krypton-85 were released. The contradictory analysis of the 1959 incident has been a source of controversy in the neighboring community, however, environmental contamination resulting from the July 1959 incident has not been yet found.[5] In April, 2009, The Department of Energy announced the dedication of $41.5 million dollars to provide for additional environmental sampling of the 260-acre Area IV, including the former SRE site.

Advanced Epithermal Thorium Reactor

The Advanced Epithermal Thorium Reactor was housed in Building 4100. It was used to study twenty different nuclear reactor core configurations by using an apparatus which supported a range of geometries.[6]

Energy Technology Engineering Center

The Energy Technology Engineering Center (ETEC), was a government-owned, contractor-operated complex of industrial facilities located within Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The ETEC specialized in non-nuclear testing of components which were designed to transfer heat from a nuclear reactor using liquid metals instead of water or gas. The center operated from 1966 to 1998. The ETEC site has been closed and is now undergoing building removal and environmental remediation by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Site contamination

The sodium burn pit, an open-air pit for cleaning sodium-contaminated components, was also contaminated when radioactively and chemically-contaminated items were burned in it, in contravention of safety requirements. In an article in the Ventura County Star, James Palmer, a former SSFL worker was interviewed. The article notes that “of the 27 men on Palmer’s crew, 22 died of cancers.” On some nights Palmer returned home from work and kissed “his [wife] hello, only to burn her lips with the chemicals he had breathed at work.” The report also noted that “During their breaks, Palmer’s crew would fish in one of three ponds … The men would use a solution that was 90 percent hydrogen peroxide to neutralize the contamination. Sometimes, the water was so polluted it bubbled. The fish died off.” Palmer’s interview ended on a somber note: “They had seven wells up there, water wells, and every damn one of them was contaminated,” Palmer said, “It was a horror story.” (See: The Cancer Effect, October 30, 2006, The Ventura County Star.)

Other spills and releases occurred over the decades of operation as well. In 1989, a DOE investigation found widespread chemical and radioactive contamination on the property. Widely publicized in the local press, the revelations led to substantial concern among community members and elected officials, resulting in a challenge to and subsequent shutdown of continued nuclear activity at the site, and the filing of lawsuits. Cleanup commenced, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was brought in at the request of local legislators to provide oversight.

A Worker disposes of toxic chemicals by blowing up full barrels with a rifle shot (the reaction to the shot caused an explosion).

On December 11, 2002, a top Department of Energy (DOE) official, Mike Lopez, described typical clean-up procedures executed by Field Lab employees in the past. Workers would dispose of barrels filled with highly toxic waste by shooting the barrels with rifles so that they would explode and release their contents into the air. It is unclear when this process ended, but for certain did end prior to the 1990s. (See: “Rocketdyne, it’s the pits,” Ventura County Reporter, December 12, 2002; also see SB990, a bill before the California legislature relating this almost unbelievable procedure.)

On July 26, 1994, two scientists, Otto K. Heiney, 52, of Chatsworth and Larry A. Pugh, 51, of Thousand Oaks, were killed when the chemicals they were illegally burning in open pits exploded. After a grand jury investigation and FBI raid on the facility, three Rocketdyne officials pleaded guilty in June 2004 to illegally storing explosive materials. The jury deadlocked on the more serious charges related to illegal burning of hazardous waste. (see: “Scientist Fined $100 in Lab Blast That Killed 2,” Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2003 Thursday; also see “Executive Sentenced in ’94 Blast; A former Rocketdyne official gets probation for violations linked to two scientists’ deaths.” Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2003 Tuesday.)

(So apparently a human life to our court judges, when it involves the upper crust as responsible for criminally cutting short that life – is about $50 a piece and probation. They ought to make those executives and their supervising management employees live in the contaminants on that property. – my note)

Toxic substances burn and are released into the air.

At trial, a retired Rocketdyne mechanic testified as to what he witnessed at the time of the explosion:

“I assumed we were burning waste,” Wells testified, comparing the process used on July 21 and 26, 1994, to that once used to legally dispose of leftover chemicals at the company’s old burn pit. As Heiney poured the chemicals for what would have been the third burn of the day, the blast occurred, Wells said. “It was so loud I didn’t hear anything … I felt the blast and I looked down and my shirt was coming apart.”

When he realized what had occurred, Wells said, “I felt to see if I was all there … I knew I was burned but I didn’t know how bad.” (See: “Ex-Rocketdyne Worker Describes Fatal 1994 Blast,” Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2002 Saturday)

In 2005, wildfires swept through northern Los Angeles County and parts of Ventura County. The fires consumed most of the dry brush throughout the Simi Hills where SSFL is located. The facility received substantial fire damage. Since the fire, allegations have emerged that vast quantities of on-site contamination was burned up, and released into the air. Most recently, Los Angeles County firefighters who were assigned to SSFL during the fire have been sent for medical testing to see if any harmful doses were ingested or inhaled while protecting the facility.

While community members and firefighters have expressed concern about the amount of exposure, Boeing officials stand by their position that no contamination of the air resulted from the fire, and that any contamination that may have been consumed by the fire was negligible.

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control also claims that no significant contamination occurred as a result of the fire. Although the Field Lab is under current criticism for violating almost 50 discharge permits, State agencies have been silent on the issue. Recently, lawyers disclosed to the California Water Resources Control Board that over 80 exceedances of Boeing’s discharge permits were found in the past year alone. In January 2006, the State Water Resources Control Board finally stepped in, and refused some requests by Boeing for even lighter standards.

Also in October 2005, Plaintiff Margaret-Ann Galasso, in a suit against Boeing criticized her attorneys, who, as she claimed, accepted a $30 million dollar settlement with Boeing without her approval. The attorneys stand to collect $18 million, or 60% of the settlement amount after their costs and fees are subtracted. The Plaintiff who disclosed the allegedly tainted deal is splitting the rest of the settlement with other plaintiffs and will only receive around $30,000, a far cry from the amount she will need for extensive future medical treatments for diseases that were linked to contamination from the SSFL facility.

In October 2006, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Advisory Panel, made up of independent scientists and researchers from around the United States, concluded that contamination at the facility resulted in between 0 and 1,800 cancer deaths (the average estimate was 300 deaths). The report also concluded that the SRE meltdown caused the release of more than 458 times the amount of radiation released at Three Mile Island.[1]

On October 15, 2007, Boeing announced that “In a landmark agreement between Boeing and California officials, nearly 2,400 acres (10 km2) of land that is currently Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory will become state parkland. According to the plan jointly announced Friday by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Boeing and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the property will be donated and preserved as a vital undeveloped open-space link in the Santa Susana Mountains above Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley. The agreement will permanently restrict the land for nonresidential, noncommercial use.”

Conflict over cleanup

At least 4 nuclear accidents and over 30,000 rocket engine tests have occurred at SSFL over the years. Many critics and local residents believe that SSFL remains a highly polluted site to this day. Widespread use of highly toxic chemicals to power the rocket tests and to clean rocket test-stands after the testing as well as contamination that resulted from the considerable nuclear research is at the heart of such claims.

Cleanup Standards

Future use of the land SSFL is located on is also a source of much debate. The site’s current owners, the Boeing Company have issued statements suggesting that the land may be sold for future unrestricted residential development without having cleaned the site up to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cleanup standards. On August 2, 2005, Pratt & Whitney purchased Rocketdyne from Boeing, but refused to acquire SSFL as part of the sale.

In 1989, DOE found widespread chemical and radioactive contamination at the site, and a cleanup program commenced. In 1995 EPA and DOE announced that they had entered into a Joint Policy Agreement to assure that all DOE sites would be cleaned up to standards consistent with EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) standards, also known as Superfund.

However, in March 2003, DOE reversed its position and announced that SSFL would not be cleaned up to EPA Superfund standards. While DOE simultaneously claimed compliance with the 1995 Joint Policy Agreement, the new plan included a cleanup of only 1% of the contaminated soil, and the release of SSFL for unrestricted residential use in as little as ten years. EPA responded to this announcement by claiming that DOE was not subject to EPA regulation due to the fact that DOE existed as a separate entity under the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, and refused take steps to force DOE adherence to the 1995 agreement.

In August 2003, the Senate Appropriations Committee issued a report on Energy and Water Appropriations, urging DOE to live up to its commitments in the 1995 Joint Policy and clean up SSFL to EPA’s CERCLA standards. Shortly thereafter, DOE responded to the Senate, claiming it was in fact consistent with both the Joint Policy and EPA’s CERCLA standards.

In December 2003, soon after DOE’s announcement that it was consistent with the 1995 agreement, EPA issued its own formal findings. EPA determined that the cleanup was not consistent with its CERCLA standards, and that sufficient contamination would remain at levels that would be dangerously inappropriate for unrestricted residential, and that the only safe use under DOE’s revised cleanup standards would be restricted day hikes with limitations on picnicking.

Critics point out that if the DOE-Boeing cleanup plan was followed through and the site was released for unrestricted residential use, the property would likely become a Superfund site subject to EPA standards. After the sale, the site would no longer be a DOE facility, and thus, the exemption from CERCLA standards would no longer be in effect.

The end result being that the site would only be brought into compliance with CERCLA cleanup standards after Boeing has sold the property, relieving the company of any burden of cleanup costs. The costs would likely be passed on to taxpayers, and not those responsible for the actual contamination. This is merely critical analysis, however, and it remains unclear as to what cleanup standards DOE and Boeing will end up setting for themselves.

In early May 2007, a Federal Court in San Francisco issued a major ruling which concluded that DOE has not been cleaning up the site to proper standards, and that the site would have to be cleaned up to higher standards if DOE ever wanted to release the site to Boeing, which in turn, would most likely release the land for unrestricted residential development.

From the L.A. Times (“Judge assails Rocketdyne cleanup” print edition, California section, May 3, 2007): Judge “Conti’s ruling requires DOE to prepare a more stringent review of the lab, which is on the border of Los Angeles County. Conti wrote that the department’s decision to prepare a less-stringent environmental document prior to cleanup is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and noted that the lab ‘is located only miles away from one of the largest population centers in the world.'”

On July 26, 2007, staff at the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board recommended a $471,190 fine against Boeing Co. for 79 violations of the California Water Code during an 18-month period.

From October 2004 to January 2006, wastewater and storm water runoff coming from the lab had increased levels of chromium, dioxin, lead, mercury and other pollutants, the water board said. The contaminated water flowed into Bell Creek and the Los Angeles River in violation of a July 1, 2004, permit that allowed release of wastewater and storm water runoff as long as it didn’t contain high levels of pollutants.

On October 15, 2007, Boeing announced that “In a landmark agreement between Boeing and California officials, nearly 2,400 acres (10 km2) of land that is currently Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory will become state parkland. According to the plan jointly announced by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Boeing and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the property will be donated and preserved as a vital undeveloped open-space link in the Santa Susana Mountains above Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley. The agreement will permanently restrict the land for nonresidential, noncommercial use.”

Community Involvement

Every quarter, Simi Valley hosts workgroup meetings regarding the cleanup of SSFL that is open to the public attendance and comment.

The workgroup consists of representatives from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the U.S. EPA. Public policy organizations such as Committee to Bridge the Gap also send representatives as part of the work group. The Boeing Company, current owner of the SSFL site is also invited, but has boycotted the meetings for the past few years. The DOE has also been invited, but like Boeing, had boycotted the meetings for the past few years. In August 2007, however, the DOE for the first time in years sent representatives to the quarterly workgroup meeting. Other organizations and private companies also attend as part of the workgroup depending on the topic pending.

The meetings are typically held at The Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, located at 3050 Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley, CA 93065.


  1. ^ The F-1 engine was so big that it could not be tested at the Rocketdyne Field Laboratory which was too close to populated San Fernando Valley areas, and tests on it were run out in the desert at the Edwards Air Force base. Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, Chapter 3.2“. NASA. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-350/ch-3-2.html.
  2. ^ Ashley, R.L.; et. Al (1961). SRE Fuel Element Damage, Final Report of the Atomics International Ad Hoc Committee. NAA-SR-4488-supl. http://www.etec.energy.gov/Health-and-Safety/Documents/SSFLPanelFiles/NAA-SR-4488-Final.pdf.
  3. ^ Rockwell International Corporation, Energy Systems Group. “Sodium Reactor Experiment Decommissioning Final Report“. pp. 4. http://etec.energy.gov/History/Major-Operations/SREDocs/ESG-DOE-13403_SREDecomReport_(4143).pdf. Retrieved April3, 2009.
  4. ^ Daniel, John A (May 27, 2005). Investigation of releases from Santa Susana Sodium Reactor Experiment. pp. See appendix C and F for copies of original documents. http://etec.energy.gov/Health-and-Safety/Documents/SSFLPanelFiles/Daniel_Report_on_SRE_Total.
  5. ^ Fact Sheet: EPA Concludes Superfund Evaluation of ETEC Area IV“. December 2003. http://www.etec.energy.gov/Regulation/RegDocs/EPAHRS.pdf. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
  6. ^ Advanced Epithermal Thorium Reactor

External links and Sources

Reactor Accident Sources

Coordinates: 34°13′51″N 118°41′47″W / 34.230822°N 118.696375°W / 34.230822; -118.696375