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Environmental Justice

Los Angeles Times Newsletter: The dark legacy of a nuclear meltdown, and what it means for climate change

Despite growing up in Los Angeles, until recently I knew next to nothing about Santa Susana, which is nestled in the Simi Hills west of the San Fernando Valley. As my L.A. Times colleagues have chronicled, it was a nuclear reactor and rocket engine test facility for decades, and the site of a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959. Today more than 700,000 people live within 10 miles.

Santa Susana is an incredibly toxic site. And the parties responsible for the long legacy of radioactive waste and other contaminants — namely Boeing, NASA and the federal Department of Energy — have done hardly anything to clean it up.

Santa Susana is also the subject of a new documentary, “In the Dark of the Valley,” which is making the rounds on the film festival circuit. It’s a gut-wrenching story about children living near the field lab who have been diagnosed with cancer, and whose mothers have banded together to demand a full cleanup, in hopes that other families won’t suffer like theirs have.

On the border of New Mexico and Texas, yet another predominantly Latino town is fighting plans for a new gas-fired turbine at a power plant owned by El Paso Electric. Here’s the view from the ground in Chaparral, where residents say some of country’s dirtiest air is making them sick, as Claudia Silva writes for New Mexico In Depth. El Paso Electric says the new gas unit is needed to help keep the lights on during hot summer weather. Indeed, power grid officials are warning that not just California but also Texas, New England and parts of the Midwest are at risk of energy shortages this summer, per Utility Dive’s Robert Walton.