Nuclear Accidents and Disasters- Santa Susana Field Laboratory, 1959

Worse Than Three Mile Island?

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a huge US government testing site that has been used for everything from rocket engines to nuclear reactors. It is also the location of what may be the worst nuclear accident in United States history, even though not many details are available about what really happened there in 1959.

Santa Susana was a nightmare facility in many ways. Even the most elementary of safety precautions were routinely disregarded. During the accident in 1959, workers were exposed directly to the contaminated area with no protective gear on at all. The facility used to get rid of dangerous waste by burning it in a pit, or putting it in a huge metal drum and having soldiers shoot at it to blow it up.


In one crew working at the site, twenty two out of the twenty seven men died of cancer. The workers were exposed to so much contaminated waste that one of them accidentally burned his wife just by giving her a kiss when he got home. The ponds at the site would literally bubble from the toxic waste in the water.


In the 1959 accident, a partial core meltdown is believed to have happened, releasing more radiation into the atmosphere than the later and much more famous accident at Three Mile Island. However, the facts about exactly what happened have never been released. The sheer recklessness and folly of the operations at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory were so extreme they're almost impossible to believe.





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Chris Rowe's picture

Chris Rowe

There was no nuclear accident at the Santa Susana Field Lab that was worse than Three Mile Island. The incident in 1959 was classified by the federal EPA as a Major Accident, but since it was a 20 MW reactor, and since the only thing that is known to have been released are the gases Xenon and Krypton, there is no harm to the community from this one incident.

I spend a great deal of time at this site which was recently sampled by the Federal EPA in the areas where the reactor research was done. I have walked all over AREA IV except where a few facilities still exist that are fenced off. 

According to DOE documents, with the exception of a few facilities, radiation is detected at this site at normal background levels which is why we are able to walk there with employees of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Federal EPA, the Department of Health, NASA, and The Boeing Company.

While disposal was performed for the protection of the employees by firemen shooting barrels of waste, this was the best option that the company had at the time. This was before today's environmental protection laws were in place.

This website is an antinuclear website. I think that if you want to report on the nuclear research that was done at this facility - that is fine. However, that research lead to today's use of about 104 nuclear power plants in the United States today. And while I understand the risks from nuclear energy, I recognize that we do not have enough alternative energy resources online today to take those reactors offline.

Please see the DOE website for the Santa Susana Field Lab AREA IV for more information about the nuclear research done there, and what is being done today to clean up the site to "Background".

The EPA has stated that at some time, the Santa Susana Field Lab went from a radilogically contaminated site due to nuclear research to one that is more chemically contaminated do to research for energy, for space, and for Homeland Security related issues.