Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2015
A recent expedition by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in conjunction with the US Navy and Boeing, “discovered” the USS Independence laden with radioactive waste 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The World War II aircraft carrier, a Bikini Atoll nuclear test survivor, had been loaded with countless barrels of nuclear waste and then sunk in a secret location by the Navy in 1951. The former Farallon Islands Nuclear Waste Dump Site is host to a total of 48,000 barrels that were abandoned from 1946 and 1970. The vessel was found at the dump site, which is now designated the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The 55-gallon barrels on the ship contained hazardous equipment and materials used for cleaning radioactive surfaces. The barrels went down with the ship, which—along with 90 other vessels—the US military itself bombed during Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll in 1946. The ship was subjected to two nuclear test strikes, code-named Able and Baker, both 21-kiloton tests. The Navy then returned it to the mainland, converted it into a radiological decontamination school, partially cleaned it, and finally had it scuttled.
While the leader of the NOAA expedition, James Delgado, stated that water near the ship tested at “normal background radiation levels,” UC-Berkeley nuclear physicist Kai Vetter, also part of the expedition, admitted that due to normal corrosion, reactions could occur that would allow radioactive material to leak into the water. In addition to harm to human life, there is a threat to the wildlife in the sanctuary, including elephant seals (which like all mammals are protected by the Marine Mammals Protection Act) and the white shark, a vulnerable species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Neither the effects of contamination, nor the cost of clean-up around the ship and the dump site have been independently studied. The ship’s discovery after 64 years is one more unfortunate reminder that begs the question: What ugly secrets does the government have that we won’t learn about for another 64 years?
—Live Science, Apr. 17; San Jose Mercury News, Apr. 16, 2015; United States Nuclear Tests: July 1945 through September 1992, US Department of Energy, Dec. 2000; Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 6, 2014; International Union for Conservation of Nature, July 2014 —KL