Cleanup of Santa Susana Field Lab site to resume

May 26, 2020, 3:54PMRadwaste Solutions

An aerial view of the Radioactive Materials Handling Facility at California’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory, with the DOE-owned buildings numbered. Photo: DOE

Under an agreement with the state of California, the Department of Energy will soon resume environmental cleanup of the Energy Technology Engineering Center (ETEC) at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in Ventura, Calif., about 36 miles northwest of Los Angeles. In a legal order signed on May 19 with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the department has agreed to demolish 10 of the remaining DOE-owned buildings within the ETEC, including several of the most contaminated buildings.

The ETEC served as a center for cutting-edge technology development that supported the U.S. nuclear and space programs during the Cold War. The 10 buildings slated for demolition comprise the former Radioactive Materials Handling Facility (RMHF) complex within the center and were used for the processing, packaging, and shipment of radioactive and mixed hazardous wastes. The buildings have been inactive since 2001. Years of rocket testing, nuclear reactor testing, and liquid metal research at Santa Susan Field Laboratory have left the site significantly contaminated..

The cleanup: Demolition and removal of the building debris will be done under the requirements of a 2010 consent order, which governs the cleanup of the Santa Susana site. The debris from all 10 buildings will be transported out of state to a low-level radioactive waste facility for disposal. The DOE said that the removal of the deteriorating buildings will reduce the potential risk of wildfires and heavy rains to cause a release of contamination from the site.

According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, contamination within the 1.5-acre RMHF complex includes radionuclides, heavy metals, solvents, oils and greases, lead-based paint, and asbestos-containing materials. The DOE said that it will continue to work with the state toward processes to remove the remaining DOE-owned buildings at the ETEC and to clean up soil and groundwater at the site. After the 10 RMHF buildings are removed, only eight DOE structures will remain at the ETEC.

What they’re saying: “Today’s actions to clean up this toxic site are the result of a critical partnership between California and the U.S. Department of Energy that greatly benefited from the personal involvement of DOE Secretary Dan Brouillette and former Secretary Rick Perry,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “The surrounding communities have waited a long time for decisive action at the Santa Susana Field Lab, and today’s order represents a new and important chapter towards the full cleanup.”

Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said, “The Department of Energy is committed to making real and significant progress to meaningfully address the environmental legacy challenges from decades of Cold War–era government research. This agreement is an important step that demonstrates how DOE and California can collaborate to bring the ETEC site to its final cleanup and completion.”

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