Hot Spots: Radioactive San Francisco via San Diego Free Press

On November 13 the San Francisco Chronicle ran a lead story written by the SF-based Center For Investigative Reporting. The story was about the radioactive contamination of Treasure Island, a former US Navy base in the middle of the Bay.

The Chron article reported that 575 metal discs consisting of radioactive radium-226 had been found in the ground at Treasure Island as of 2011. The report did not mention that the radioactive life of radium-226 is millennia, over 16,000 years.

The Navy has claimed that all its radwaste on the island had already been hauled away. In August 2012 RT News, a Russian English language news service, reported “Navy contractors excavated and removed 16,000 yards of contaminated dirt, some with levels of radiation up to 400 times above the EPA limit for human exposure.”

And in September 2012 the East Bay Express reported “Over the past five years, at least 3 shipments of extremely radioactive waste—most of it from the metal disks—have moved from Treasure Island to a secure location.”

This radwaste was so hot that proximity to it for a few hours could kill you in a month.


Treasure Island

In October 2010, provided the following information, from a 2006 Navy report “Treasure Island Historical Radiological Assessment:”

The Navy operated a training center on Treasure Island for the study of nuclear warfare and decontamination from the late 1940s up into the 1990s. “Part of the training involved the hiding of radioactive buttons around the training school. Then students armed with Geiger counters would try to find them.” Maybe the emphasis here should be on “try?”

One school document listed “Radionuclides of Concern.” This included cesium-137, radium-226, thorium-232, strontium-90 and plutonium 239. All of these are potentially lethal, with long radioactive lives. They would be expected to appear after a nuclear weapon detonation, which the students were training to deal with. “All made appearances at one time or another on the Treasure Island base,‘ Cal Watch member Anthony Pignatori reported.

In April 2013 Bay Citizen, a publication of the Center for Investigative Reporting, broke the news that it had found cesium-137 (radioactive life 300 years) on Treasure Island. Two of its reporters had taken soil samples from the site and sent them to two independent testing labs. Both labs found C-137 in the soil.



Some radioactive wastes were created or received at Hunters Point, while others ended up in the ground, air and water. Still others were transported off site. Beneath the waters adjacent to the Farallon Islands, 30 miles off San Francisco, sits the Farallon Nuclear Waste Site, the largest US undersea radwaste dump.

From 1946 until 1970 the Navy loaded an estimated 45,000 55-gallon drums of radioactive waste onto barges at Hunters Point, then dumped them in the vicinity of the Farallones. If the barrels didn’t immediately sink, sailors shot at them until they did.

Several sources report that the US Navy ship Independence was deep sixed somewhere in the region as well. The Independence was one of the Navy war ships exposed to nuclear fallout in a US Pacific test of an atomic bomb.


The Navy’s official line is that the 45,000 barrels it sunk contained relatively low levels of radiation that would be harmless to living things by now. But the SF Weekly article reported:

“ two government officials say the Navy has acknowledged dumping thousands of barrels of high level, long lived ‘special’ nuclear waste at the site.”

This reportedly included large amounts of uranium and plutonium.


Half Lives

While it is true that the shorter lived radioactive wastes at Treasure Island, Hunters Point and the sea floor beneath the Farallon Islands have decayed away by now, that of the longer lived dangerous ones like radium -226, cesium -137, plutonium and uranium will be around for hundreds of more years, if not millennia. Plutonium 239 has a radioactive life of 240,000 yeaars.

And so too will the threat of cancer and other serious diseases to living things they come in contact with, as well as the potential to cause genetic damage to future generations.


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