Boeing Co. and its operating partners at a former nuclear research and rocket engine testing facility near Simi Valley met a state-imposed deadline this week to propose precise deadlines covering the next decade of its long-term cleanup effort.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control required Boeing, majority owner of the Santa Susana Field Lab, and the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA to submit by Wednesday their tentative schedule for complying with a consent decree issued in August.
The operators were ordered to specify when they planned to analyze the levels of chemical and radioactive contamination at the 2,850-acre hilltop site, which has been divided into 10 geographic sections, and conduct the necessary cleanup. The state agency set a 10-year deadline for the soil at the field lab to be cleaned to acceptable standards and for long-term water-cleaning processes to be installed and operating.
"This schedule shows us they understand that there are many steps that need to be completed in order to achieve the 2017 target date," said Norman F. Riley, the substance control department's project director for the field lab cleanup. "They've given us an initial showing of steps indicating they intend to meet that [deadline]. That's a good thing."
Riley said that through the end of this year, his office will review the compliance schedule and will adjust deadlines where needed. Once a final schedule is determined, the timeline will be posted on the agency's website. Riley stressed that throughout the stages of the decontamination process, the public will have opportunities to comment and make suggestions.
Boeing spokeswoman Blythe Jameson said the latest development is an important step for the company and its partners in continuing years of cleanup activities at the site.
"The draft schedule is an effort to secure specific milestones for the key tasks that will further our cleanup of soil and water already underway," Jameson said.
Along with rocket and laser testing, federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, conducted nuclear research at the lab over four decades, before ceasing operations in the late 1980s.
The previous owner, Rockwell International, controlled the lab in 1959 during a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor, an incident that was kept hidden for two decades. In an April 1996 plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Rockwell International pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal disposal of hazardous waste and one count of illegal storage of hazardous waste and paid a $6.5-million fine in connection with a 1994 chemical explosion that killed two scientists at the lab. Eight months later, Boeing acquired Rockwell International's aerospace and defense businesses.
Boeing has primary responsibility for restoring the property in the Santa Susana Mountains between Simi Valley and Chatsworth. Boeing sold the remainder of Rockwell's Rocketdyne division assets in 2005 to United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney unit for about $700 million.
Boeing announced plans last month to donate the 2,400 acres it owns at the site to the state, once the land has been cleaned up, for use as open space and parkland. The company said about 1,000 undeveloped acres along the southern portion of the lab could become open to the public as soon as 2009.
Allen Elliott, NASA's project coordinator at Santa Susana, said detailed individual studies of all 10 sections of the property will be conducted. Once comprehensive cleanup plans are developed, a separate environmental impact statement on those processes will be prepared, with a draft due to state officials in April 2013, according to the compliance schedule.
"Overall, I think it's a pretty aggressive schedule," Elliott said.