From the Archives: 'Hot room' at Santa Susana Field Laboratory

An enclosed laboratory, called a “hot room,” is one of several at the Santa Susana facility of Atomics International, a division of North American Rockwell Corp. After company mergers, the Santa Susana facility was operated by Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division.

In a Dec. 21, 1989, Los Angeles Times story, staff writer Myron Levin reported on the closure of the “hot lab:”

In its heyday, Santa Susana was a flourishing center for nuclear work. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor, the U.S. Department of Energy, contracted with Rockwell to build and run 16 small nuclear reactors, to fabricate nuclear fuel, and to salvage plutonium and uranium from spent fuel rods for use in atomic weapons and as fuel for nuclear-powered ships.

But in recent years, nuclear work fell off sharply and several key buildings were decommissioned. The only active nuclear job site has been the hot lab, a heavily shielded workshop where radioactive materials are handled by remote control.

Rockwell's request last summer to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 10-year renewal of the hot lab's special nuclear materials license brought a chorus of protest from neighborhood and anti-nuclear activists.

Then, on Oct. 20, the company stunned and delighted its foes by announcing that it would scale back its request for relicensing to one year — enough time to finish pending work and begin decommissioning the hot lab.

With the hot lab the only building equipped to handle highly radioactive materials, the announcement seemed to spell the end of nuclear work at Santa Susana. But until Saturday's interview, company officials refused to discuss the future.

Set on a rugged plateau in the Simi Hills, the Santa Susana site occupies 2,668 acres, of which 290 acres have been devoted to nuclear and other energy programs. ...

Cleanup of the Santa Susana facility continues today. In 2007, Boeing, the current owner of the site, announced that the facility will become state parkland.

This photo by Tony Barnard was published in the July 11, 1971, Los Angeles Times.

Levin’s story ‘Hot Lab’ Closure to End Nuclear Work at Rockwell Site is online.

 

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