Officials with the Department of Energy and the Boeing Co., which owns the lab, said they had received the ruling late Wednesday and were not prepared to comment on it. In the past, DOE officials have said they’re following all state and federal laws, and that their plan would leave the site safe for unrestricted use. Partial meltdown site At issue is a 90-acre section of the lab called the Energy Technology Engineering Center, where the Department of Energy conducted nuclear research from the 1950s through 1988. The center was the site of 10 nuclear reactions, one of which included a partial meltdown, and an open-air pit where workers burned radioactive and chemical waste. The DOE is overseeing its own decontamination at the center site. In 2002, the agency reversed its long-standing commitment to follow the strictest standards and announced it would adopt the less stringent of two cleanup plans. Polluter policing Activists, environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control all raised concern over the proposal. At the time, the EPA also warned that the site would not be safe for anything more than limited camping and picnicking. Yet residents have said they often felt powerless against the Department of Energy. “We were just getting to the end of our rope,” said Barbara Johnson, who lives downhill from the lab. “DOE seems to be doing their own oversight and there seems to be nobody controlling what they’re doing. And they’re the polluter. “I think this ruling will give impetus to the people to keep hanging in there.” Under the judge’s ruling, the DOE must complete a new environmental study. Officials had no estimate on how long a new study might take, but such studies typically are lengthy and time-consuming. Tougher laws sought However, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer – along with state Sen. Sheila Kuehl and Assemblywoman Julia Brownley – also are trying to enact laws that would require the strictest cleanup standards at the lab. Feinstein said the court ruling was good news. “This is really an indictment of the Department of Energy’s cleanup plan. They must live up to their commitment to have an EPA analysis of the site, to commence immediately,” she said in a written statement. The lawsuit was filed by the Committee to Bridge the Gap, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the city of Los Angeles. “Today’s decision means the Bush administration must protect Southern Californians from a radioactive and toxic debacle at the Santa Susana Field Lab,” said James Birkelund, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It also sets a precedent nationwide that the Department of Energy must comply with federal law, common sense and basic standards of decency.” firstname.lastname@example.org (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Five years after the Department of Energy adopted a controversial cleanup plan for its portion of the Santa Susana Field Lab, a judge ruled Wednesday that the plan violates federal law and that a thorough environmental survey of the former nuclear research site is needed before it can be declared safe. The decision marked a major victory for activists and lab neighbors who have railed against the DOE’s plan to leave 99 percent of the contaminated soil at the hilltop lab. The decision also means the DOE, which had planned to complete its cleanup in the coming months, now must go back to the drawing board and cannot release the land for unrestricted use until a full environmental study is completed. “Our concern is the Department of Energy has been tearing down buildings without remediating the soil and groundwater,” said Dan Hirsch, a longtime lab watchdog whose group, Committee to Bridge the Gap, was a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This stops them from walking away now with having only done a trivial cleanup of the site.” In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti said the DOE violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which is designed to inform and assure the public about the environmental impacts of government projects. “Area IV is known to be radiologically contaminated and, in fact, was the location of at least one well-known nuclear meltdown,” Conti wrote in his ruling. “It is located only miles away from one of the largest population centers in the world and, in all probability, will become part of that center. … It is difficult to imagine a situation where the need for such an assurance could be greater.” Conti also criticized the DOE’s answers to scientific concerns raised about its cleanup plan. He said the agency responded with “a combination of unjustified assumptions, refusals of responsibility and promises of undefined post-hoc evaluations.” Conti ordered the DOE to go back and complete a detailed analysis of contamination at the site and how it will be cleaned up.