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Halt Recycling of Rocketdyne Components, Boxer Urges

Health: Energy secretary is asked to prevent the reuse of items from the lab near Simi Valley. But a spokesman says they are not contaminated.

March 02, 2000|GARY POLAKOVIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Democratic U. S. Sen. Barbara Boxer urged the head of the Energy Department to stop attempts by Rocketdyne's Santa Susana laboratory to recycle suspected radioactive components as consumer items.

The request, delivered to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson during a Wednesday committee hearing in Washington, stems from cleanup at the lab near Simi Valley.

Although some equipment was disposed of, portable buildings used at a 200-acre nuclear energy test center at the lab were delivered to a school district in San Luis Obispo County and a wildlife recovery center in Little Tujunga Canyon.

Boxer called the practice "careless radioactive recycling." Environmentalists and members of the public voiced objections too.

Meanwhile, the head of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency office in California said the Energy Department reneged on a promise to permit the EPA to inspect the materials before transport.

"The demolition of these buildings and lack of open communication with all the stakeholders is of great concern to me," EPA Regional Administrator Felicia Marcus stated in a Feb. 24 letter to the Energy Department. "The demolition of these buildings has exacerbated an already contentious situation."

But a spokesman for Boeing Co.'s Rocketdyne Division said tests by the Energy Department and state Health Department showed that the buildings, which housed administrative staff during the 1950s, were not contaminated with radiation and posed no health hazard.

However, the Shandon School District and the Wildlife Waystation opted to return the buildings because of asbestos concerns, Rocketdyne spokesman Dan Beck said.

"We take great exception to this characterization of careless radioactive waste handling," Beck said. "Everything we've done with regard to disposal of radiological waste has been done according to the letter of the law."

Beck said the EPA, which has limited authority over the cleanup, will be granted access to test five remaining portable buildings awaiting removal.

Millions of dollars are being spent to remove toxic and radioactive pollution from the lab, which tested missiles used to fight the Cold War.

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