Radioactive Waste: Old Records Reveal History of Navy Shipyard Dumping

By Davis, Lisa | Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, July/August 2002 | Go to article overview

Radioactive Waste: Old Records Reveal History of Navy Shipyard Dumping


Davis, Lisa, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal


It started with a story about fish.

I'd written a feature story on the inventor of a submersible vehicle and his quest to explore the deepest channel of the ocean. In researching the story, I stumbled onto what amounted to a footnote about fish feeding off of barrels of nuclear waste dumped long ago near the Farallon Islands. The subject caught my interest, and I scratched at it a bit whenever I had time.

Eventually, fish became toxic-waste dumping, which led to environmental cleanup, which led back to the source of the undersea nuclear material - the former Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco, a 500-acre decommissioned naval base that the city plans to take over and develop into, among other things, 1,800 units of housing.

After more than a year of digging into historical records, interviewing former employees, reviewing environmental cleanup reports, and talking to scientists, we produced a two-part series, "Fallout," that essentially did what the Navy had failed to do: disclose the history of nuclear activity at the Hunters Point Shipyard.

Old records

The series focused on a secret government research facility known as the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory (NRDL), which operated at the Hunters Point Shipyard from 1946 to 1969. The lab originally was created to study, and attempt to decontaminate, ships involved in a series of atomic bomb tests near the Bikini Islands known as Operation Crossroads. The lab went on to become the military's largest facility for applied nuclear research, and was involved in every nuclear test the government performed during that time.

NRDL handled almost every kind of radioactive material known to man - including, at one point; enough plutonium to kill 15 million people. Its scientists often experimented with and disposed of nuclear material with little apparent concern that it was operating in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

On one occasion, they spread radioactive material on the ground to practice cleaning it up. Another time, NRDL scientists hung a radioactive source off the fantail of a ship in the San Francisco Bay just to see what it would do. The Navy oversaw the dumping of tons of radioactive sand and acid into San Francisco Bay, and burned radioactive fuel oil in a boiler, discharging the smoke into the atmosphere. Navy officials also scuttled an old aircraft carrier filled with radioactive waste in the bay outside San Francisco.

How did we learn this?

From yet another feature story, I knew a bit about the National Archives and Records Administration branch in San Bruno, Calif., and some of the old records collections housed there. For unknown reasons, there are very few actual records from Hunters Point Shipyard in the archives, but many records (650 cubic feet, to be exact) from NRDL, probably because the lab's researchers played a key role in advancing nuclear science. Of course, for much the same reason, many of the NRDL records remain classified.

Thankfully, they are also very old records. And because of their age, many of the NRDL records were eligible for declassification. All federal records have a prescribed life span, meaning that they are retained in certain locations for certain periods of time, and classified for specific reasons and lengths of time. Generally, if the time period and reason for classification have expired, the records are eligible to be declassified. (That's not to say we gained access to everything we requested - far from it. For example, anything relating to nuclear technology that is still in use anywhere, in any form, remained classified, as did many records on individuals assigned to NRDL). Thus began a routine: I requested about 10 boxes of NRDL or shipyard records at a time. The archivists notified me when whatever I was allowed to see of the group was ready. Then, I'd spend a few days in the locked room, opening boxes - some full, some empty except for a few pieces of paper. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Radioactive Waste: Old Records Reveal History of Navy Shipyard Dumping
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.