San Francisco
San Francisco
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature

Hot Spots: Radioactive San Francisco

by Michael Steinberg (blackrainpress [at]
This story is important in and of itself, but also because it once again unearths the region’s role in the birth of the atomic age, and also highlights the radioactive legacy that continues to haunt us.

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.

But where is this “secure” location, and who’s going to keep and eye on it for the next 16,000 years? And what effect has it had on the health of the mostly low income tenants who have been living in former Navy housing on Treasure Island?

Or the people who use its recreational facilities, such as Little League fields? The Center For Investigative Reporting article reported:

“Every weekend, families from around the region flock to the baseball fields along Treasure Island’s eastern side for Little League games. Outfielder Cole Scott, 13, said fly balls have often sailed into fenced areas posted with radiation warning signs. And he said people just as often climbed over the fence to fetch them.”

The Chronicle did not include the above passage in its November 13 top story.

So, where did all this hot stuff come from?

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.
Bay Citizen also reported on the findings of an August 2013 Navy study of radwaste on Treasure Island.
Among these was that for the “first time the military acknowledged that the island, created from landfill in 1937, was used as a repair and salvage center during the Cold War for ships that may have been exposed to nuclear testing in the Pacific.”
The most common way to decontaminate the nuked ships back then was to sandblast them, creating more radioactive waste in so doing.
And so there are multiple ways Treasure Island could have become a nuclear hotspot.

On November 27, a few weeks after the Chron story, KTVU Channel 2 reported that low income residents of 24 units on Treasure Island, some of whom had lived there for more than a decade, had received a letter from San Francisco officials informing them that would have to move soon.
With soaring evictions in San Francisco another hot topic, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The letter, dated November 25, was from Richard Beck, boss of the Treasure Island Development Authority.
Beck said their homes were contaminated, but that the eviction action was “not related to an ongoing radiological survey.” Supposedly the tenants could move to other housing units on the island.
Becker claimed that six units,said to be contaminated with arsenic “may have to be demolished.”
The city plans to have luxury highrise housing built on Treasure Island. Only the continuing contamination and the remaining low income tenants are standing in the way.

Hunters Point

Disturbing as Treasure Island’s radioactive history is, that of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard appears to be even more sordid. To begin with, it was the transit departure point for Little Boy, the atomic bomb the US dropped over the civilian population of Hiroshima in August 1945, murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians.
A review of the events leading up to that action seems to be in order here. Since Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor in late 1941, the military forces of the two nations had fought a furious and increasingly degenerate war.
The US knew that Germany was trying to build an atomic bomb too, and the race was on.
By June 1945 the fighting was over in Europe, with the Allies victorious. But the war was still raging in the Pacific, though the US had the upper hand. It wanted to get it over with ASAP. In March 1945 US B29 bombers firebombed Japanese cities. They dropped hundreds of thousands of napalm bombs on Tokyo.
But even after horrendous conflagrations and major loss of life, Japan would not surrender.
In mid July, the Navy ship Indianapolis, which had just been repaired at Mare Island Naval base in Vallejo, CA, received orders to report to Hunters Point to pick up “special cargo.”
The following account by a Naval officer from July 1945 appeared in the SF Bayview newspaper on August 31, 2009:
“On July 15 we were ordered to go to San Francisco (Hunters Point) to pick up some cargo. We tied up there and two big trucks came alongside. One truck was put in the port hangar. Two Army officers from [the other] truck carried “a canister about 3 foot wide by 4 foot tall…Later on, I found out that this held the nuclear ingredients for the bomb, and the large box in the hanger contained the device for firing the bomb.
“We sailed at 0800 the morning of 16 July. We arrived in Tinian [near Guam Island in the Pacific, from which the B-29 carrying theA-bomb flew off] the morning of 26 July and unloaded the material and bomb which was later dropped over Hiroshima,”
Also on July 16 the US set off the first atomic bomb ever in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
But that was just the beginning of Hunters Point’s involvement with nuclear operations.
Hunters Point began operating as a Navy shipyard in the early 1940s. It soon became the only Navy shipyard in Northern California that could deal with large
After World War II ended, the US wasted no time in continuing nuclear operations. In July 1946, during Operation Crossroads, it set off two A-Bombs at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. Nearly 100 “target” and 150 “support ships” sat in surrounding waters.
The Navy wanted to see how the ships would do in an atomic blast.
There were animals on some of the ships, ranging from goats to rats. The Navy wanted to know how they would do too.
As it turned out, neither did so well. A lot of the animals died, and a lot of the ships, those that didn’t sink, ended up contaminated with radioactive fallout from the two atomic blasts.
The Navy did what it could to decontaminate them, but its efforts “revealed conclusively that removal of radioactive contamination of the type encountered on target ships cannot be accomplished successfully,” a Navy fact sheet on Operation Crossroads stated.
As for the support ships, the fact sheet goes on, they “were decontaminated as necessary and received a radiological clearance before they could rejoin the fleet. This required a great deal of experimentation, primarily in San Francisco.”
And primarily at Hunter’s Point.
Community Window at Hunters Point reported “18 target and observation vessels were decontaminated at Hunters Point,” after Operation Crossroadsd, and that subsequently the shipyard “decontaminated ships associated with Pacific atomic and thermonuclear (H Bomb) testing generated radiological materials and waste.”
Hunters Point was also the home of the Naval Radiological Defense Lab. This facility’s “purposes included radiological decontamination of ships exposed to atomic weapons testing,” and also “included conducting research and experiments on decontamination, the effects of radiation on living organisms, and the effects of radiation on materials,” the Navy reported, from post WWII until 1969. It became the “US military’s largest facility for nuclear research,” according to the September 1, 2001 SF Weekly.
And, the Weekly reported, the “shipyard also consolidated radioactive waste from other facilities, including the University of California, Mare Island, and McClellan Air Force Base (near Sacramento).”
As a result of all these activities, substantial amounts of radioactive and other toxic wastes have been found at Hunters Point since its closure in the late ‘60s.
Subsequently the EPA found “various radionuclides, primarily radium-226 and cesium-137” there.
The EPA declared Hunters Point a Superfund site. How well its been cleaned up is still a matter of controversy, similar to thatat Treasure Island. And, as with Treasure Island, at stake is a high end housing development that could destroy surrounding, primarily low income African American, communities.


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 ship was brought back to Hunters Point, where it was determined that it was too radioactive to salvage. According to the September, 2001 SF Weekly report, the Independence was “packed with huge amounts of radioactive waste before it was sunk, very probably in the Farallones.”
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.
The Farallon Islands are adjacent to the Monterey Marine Sanctuary, which includes much of the coastal waters of Northern and Central California.
And they are smack dab in the middle of the 1282 square mile Gulf of Farallones
Marine Sanctuary.

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.
When there is money to be made off of the sites, some the radwastes may be hauled away or covered over. The Navy is supposed to be responsible for this, but it doesn’t want to spend the money to do a complete job (if there is such a thing), despite an annual US military budget of over $700 billion.
And there don’t appear to be any accessible health studies of people in possibly affected communities.
After a fire at Hunters Point in August 2000, The EPA hired the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to study what the fire might have done to residents of the surrounding Bayview and Hunters Point communities.
The agency reported that this was an “87% minority population,” with “higher than the national average rates of asthma, respiratory disease, lung cancer and diabetes.”
The communities were “considered vulnerable and may be more sensitive to the effects of exposure to hazardous substances.”
And these substances at the former Hunters Point Shipyard included “radiological elements. PCBs, mercury, lead and over 400 toxins that emit very high readings and adversely impact all life forms and that includes humans,” according to Francisco Da Costa, director of Environmental Justice Advocacy, in the April 7, 2010 edition of SF Bayview newspaper.
Yet the agency only recommended that the communities should be notified when toxins in the air were higher that usual, so they could leave their homes.
Once again, there don’t seem to be any definitive health studies, leaving residents on their own to deal with the diseases related to environmental racism, as well as social maladies like gentrification that seek to push them out of their neighborhoods altogether, dead or alive. And leaving the “better class” that is to replace that population around the toxic sites on their own as well.
Meanwhile the marine life beneath the Farallones is at the no mercy of what’s in the 45,000 barrels of radwaste and scuttled A-bombed Navy ship as well. The marine sanctuaries that are supposed to help protect these living things are powerless to deal with this nuclear threat.
And so the atomic war that the US started almost seven decades ago continues in San Francisco and off its shores, giving the lie to its market image as a green city, and continuing to threaten the lives of the innocents and unborn, just as we did in Hiroshima.
All this points to the pressing need to denuclearize out city, our country and our world. The need to stop producing more radioactive wastes is paramount. Because at this point the question is: will we outlive them, or will they outlast us?

Michael Steinberg is a veteran activist and writer based in San Francisco.

Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by ntuit
This is a very, very important story which the MSM is failing to adequately report. If one really reads this and considers the implications of what our government has done...what does it really say about the so called American democracy and what is the true nature of the American government? It is not what people believe it is..but something much, much more evil and disgusting. it is time...wake up america!
Hanford on the Columbia River in Washington State, is a huge dump of the waste from the atomic weapons, and much of the Atomic fission power plants in America.

This dump is now radiation poisoning the Ocean, Columbia River, the land and air in the Region and attempts to clean it up have failed miserably.

Fish, wildlife, and communities are directly effected with the Radiation and sickness from its unjust poisons have increased and been reported in the region.

The govt. says it will take numerous billions to clean it up, but the people on the ground say it has failed in its attempts so far, and there is no known sure method to do so as it escapes all containment eventually.

Nuclear power plants are failed twentieth century technology because they are not as the industry says they are 'clean power', when in fact they cannot control the waste.

The U.S. Navy has lost fifty-four atomic and hydrogen bombs on the Ocean floors around the world, and this is called a broken arrow. They cannot find them. Therein lays another threat to the Oceans and the life living in them.

Further the U.S. Navy has lost nine atomic reactors on the Ocean floor that they cannot find or recover. All this tragedy is unecessary and there is an alternative.

Re-tool the industrial revolution to wind, tidal, and solar power which transforms to electricity, and which gives light, heat, cold- refridgeration, transportation, and communication.

At present the fossil fuel burn-out of oxygen has reached 40% approx., and mother nature cannot replace the oxygen in positive plus fast enough anymore, as the burn-out to CO2 is so humungas that oxygen is literally being sped up to dissapearing actuality in the present time atmosphere.

We cannot live on the carbon-dioxide replacement, and the present fail-safe mode of Earth's existence is being pushed by Canadian XL- Alberta Tar Sands, Bakken Fields N.Dakota,West Coast Fracking and around America Fracking, Mountain top Removal, and Coal dirty air, land and water, international was for oil, into the final and last Earth-mode where the 60% remaining oxygen is been aggressively wared against towards the 'NO RETURN MODE' of zero oxygen .

Climate Change is deeply upon us and the truth is those that denigh its existence are not in tune with mother nature. If the peoples do not re-tool to the non-pollution solutions, this planet which already is being toasted will begin as in Australia, arriving at over the top temperatures from last summer of 50 degrees C.

The point is that we need now to shut down the fossil fuels and atomic fission radiation power plants.

Workers of the world unite!! End pollution wars, not endless wars for more and more pollution. Ye yet have a world to win!!
by Unity Jack for Mother Earth
At the place where Peoples China let go its first nuclear bomb in the summer of 1964, there is a Plaque with this inscription for all to see. China only learns the technique of Atomic bombs is be able to abolish all nuclear weapons on the planet Earth.

China will host or be hosted at such a political meeting with all countries in posession of nuclear weapons and one item on the agenda: the complete thorough total abolishment and dismantling of all nuclear weapons globally.

China has put forward the program to these countries U.S.A., Britain, France, Russia, Israel, and all those countries refused to attend such a meeting even if hosted in the United Nations.

Since that time both India, Pakistan, N. Korea and the U.S. Occupyers of S. Korea have aquired nuclear weapons.

This part of the foreign policy of the Peoples Republic of China bears remembering when dealing with the need to clear and liberate the planet of all weapons of mass destruction so the freeing of the entire planet can actually take place.

As it now stands the U.S. Imperialists have the most nuclear weapons, followed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Israel, then approx. India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

More than a generation has passed since this offer of Peoples China was made to the world, so the new generations should be reminded of it, so they can pick up the and pass on the organizing, educating and agitating for to implement such a meeting.

Workers of the world unite!! End pollution wars of aggression, not endless wars for more and more pollution. You yet have a world to win!! Cdn. 1st Divison agrees, and hopes all countries will take part.
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


$65.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network