Opinion: Documentary shines light on nuclear accident in Simi and corporate greed

web 11 19 21 DODGE

By Dr. Robert Dodge

“In the Dark of the Valley,” an MSNBC documentary about the 1959 nuclear accident at Simi Valley’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory, will air for a second time on Sunday, Nov. 21, at 5 p.m.

The documentary is the winner of the 2021 Ojai Film Festival’s Best Documentary Feature and Audience Choice Awards. It was made by first-time filmmakers, Nicolas Mihm, and Brandon and Derek Smith.

The documentary tells the personal stories of Simi Valley moms Melissa and Lauren about their children, Grace and Hazel, who have suffered life-threatening cancers attributable to the radionuclide and chemical agents released to surrounding communities from the Santa Susana Field Lab above their homes.

Other parents in the area whose children have suffered or died from cancer also tell their stories.

The documentary puts the national spotlight on Ventura County's 62-year-old nuclear secret at the Field Lab with its devastating health effects on local communities that continue to this day.

According to information released about the documentary: “In the Dark of the Valley follows a group of Southern California mothers who discover that the nearby Santa Susana Field Laboratory is one of the most radioactive and chemically contaminated sites in the world — and neglect from the property owners may have exposed the community to decades worth of cancer-causing hazardous waste.”

This is one of the most important stories for all of our community to be aware of.

The story begins in the 1940s when the field lab was established as a remote facility for rocket-engine and nuclear-reactor testing. In the hills above Simi Valley and the west San Fernando Valley, it was 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles, yet close enough to the local university scientists. Since that time, as the Southern California population has grown, the population has expanded to 500,000 people who live within 10 miles of the Field Lab.

The site included 10 non-contained nuclear reactors as well as nuclear fabrication facilities for plutonium and uranium fuel fabrication. In addition a “hot lab” was on site where highly radioactive fuel from around the U.S. nuclear complex was shipped for decommissioning. In addition, there were tens of thousands of rocket-engine tests conducted on site. This resulted in the area becoming a veritable “Who’s Who” of toxic chemicals that remain on site to this day.

There were numerous accidents on site over the years, including a 1959 partial meltdown of the Sodium Research Experiment nuclear reactor that went on to release radiation into the surrounding areas for weeks thereafter, highly contaminating the site. Some reports place estimates of radioactive release up to 459 times that of the infamous Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. That radioactive contamination continues to this day. Ultimately, four of the 10 nuclear reactors had significant accidents.

Over the years, offsite migration of radionuclides and toxic chemicals during winter rains and fires has been well documented. The contents of the highly contaminated soils is taken up by the vegetation that grows. When fires or heavy rains occur, these agents migrate off site to the communities below.  Notably, the latest scientific study released in October has confirmed significant contamination of radionuclides up to 10 miles (the extent of testing) from the site following the Woolsey fire, which started on the site in 2018.

Throughout all this time, the health of the surrounding communities — and, in particular, our

most vulnerable children — have remained the ultimate canaries in the coal mine, warning of the impending risk.

All are encouraged to view this film with those you love and then act to stop putting corporate greed ahead of human health and demand the cleanup of the site now.

This we owe to those children, their families and the greater community at large — both past, present and future.

— Dr. Robert Dodge of Ojai is a longtime Ventura County physician.

Editor’s note: Dr. Dodge’s explanations about the danger of radiation exposure are included in the documentary. Other area residents who appear in the documentary are Larry Yee of Ojai, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks and Congresswoman Julia Brownley. For more information about the documentary, visit:

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