September 26, 2006

Runkledyne Danger

So I was doing my daily housing-related browsing over at Curbed LA when I came across this disturbing post about possible development in the Runkle Canyon area of my hometown, Simi Valley. The Runkle Canyon area is a vast expanse of foothills and ranchland area in the southeast hills of Simi, and it's really some gorgeous land. That's enough to cause concern over developers wanting to build on it. But, unfortunately, there's more to it.

Runkle Canyon is right near Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory, where the company did testing on rocket engines, including ones for the Space Shuttle. I remember, from growing up, hearing the loud low-end rumble coming from the east from time to time, and when outdoors I could see the telltale white clouds seemingly coming out of hills. The rocket tests used to startle, scare, mystify and then titillate me, ultimately. It seemed so space-age to me.

I had no idea, but in 1959, there was a partial meltdown at the Rocketdyne facility's experiemental Sodium Reactor (SRE). This nuclear meltdown was America's first, and is widely-held to be the worst in American history - surpassing that of even the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear disaster! A third of the SRE's core melted, and "deadly radioactive vapors escaped into the air. Yikes! I'm amazed that I haven't heard about this before. Not even my rocket-scientist boyfriend was aware of it, and that's a little shocking in and of itself.

What appears to be worse is the hazardous materials contamination at the facility site. Both toxic chemical and radiological contamination has been found, in really high levels, and there have been charges that the surrounding areas have also been plagued by it.

Now let's get back to the potential Runkle Canyon development. High levels of a leukemia-causing toxin called radionuclide strontium-90 (Sr-90) have been found in the Runkle Canyon area, and locals are convinced this contamination was caused by Rocketdyne. Residents of Simi and officials alike are, obviously, highly concerned that any construction in the area might dredge up these toxins into the air, affecting both the Simi Valley and San Fernando Valley areas. This is NOT cool.

The City Council already approved the developers plans to build back in August of 2005, but the developers have not yet filed for the appropriate permits necessary to build on the land. I guess there was a City Council meeting scheduled for September 25th (yesterday! ugh!), where opponents were going to discuss the issue further with The City. I'll definitely be following this story, as I had no idea how dangerous this area really was. Below are some relevant links you might be interested in:

"Nuclear Housing in Simi Valley" - Original Curbed LA blog post.
"The Hills Have Eyes" - LA City Beat article about the Runkle Canyon Development.
Fire On the Mountain" - LA City Beat article discussing the 1959 disaster, other contaminations and the consequences facing some residents.
Runkle Canyon.com - Site outlining development plans and all the niceties that will be afforded to future residents. No mention of the testing facility nearby.
Stop Runkledyne.com - Site opposing development in the Runkle Canyon area.


posted by julie at September 26, 2006 12:19 PM


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