The world's first nuclear meltdown occurred in Simi Valley, California, not more than 20 minutes from Los Angeles, on July 26, 1959. Thanks to a lack
of media coverage on the meltdown, the amount of radiation that escaped and where it went is completely unknown. Despite the magnitude of the event
and its suspected impact on the environment, even the residents of Simi Valley and the adjacent San Fernando Valley are largely unaware of what
happened there and what has continued to take place in the years following.
The 40-year saga of gross negligence and subsequent whitewashing began when power company Rocketdyne's primitive nuclear reactor, the Sodium Reactor
Experiment, experienced a meltdown. Nearly a third of the reactor's core melted, and radioactivity spewed into the environment from the unshielded
building. But instead of workers in hazardous-materials suits converging on the scene and evacuating the surrounding area, the disaster was not even
acknowledged until six weeks later in a small and misleading press release. The communiqué announced that only "a parted fuel element was observed"
and that "the fuel element damage is not an indication of unsafe reactor conditions. No release of radioactive materials to the environment plant or
its environs occurred, and operating personnel were not exposed to harmful conditions." It was a lie that Rocketdyne has perpetuated and exacerbated
in the decades since.
"Rocketdyne is our Chernobyl," says Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of the Los Angeles public-health organization Physicians for Social
Responsibility and longtime Rocketdyne critic. "People have died; others are chronically ill. But because it's so damned hard to link a hypothetical
incident of exposure to the onset of a specific disease, I bet Rocketdyne will never be accountable for their acts."
Locals call it "The Hill," a 2,668-acre military-industrial complex, covered with boulders and blanketed by chaparrals, smack-dab in the middle of
the mountains separating the valleys. The Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is a giant expanse of rocket-test stands, concrete bunkers and decaying
former nuclear reactors. The laboratory was integral to developing America's arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, including the
nuke-tipped Navaho, Atlas, Jupiter and Minuteman rockets.
Rocketdyne has inadvertently and deliberately leaked a plethora of radioactive and chemical poisons into the environment since it first opened SSFL in
1946. Residents are currently fighting back, lodging more than 300 individual lawsuits against the Boeing-owned company. They contend that the
pollutants emanating from the site, now undergoing a $258-million cleanup, are killing them with oftentimes rare cancers.