- April 11th, 2012
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Without the oceans there would be no life on Earth.-Peter Benchley
Located 30 miles west of San Francisco, California are the Farallon Islands, and the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt declared this area a National Wildlife Refuge. President Roosevelt was one of this nation’s greatest conservationists, with the establishment of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the United States Forest Service, and the National Park Systems, just to name a few.
There have been 36 marine mammal species observed at the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary including seals and sea lions, whales, dolphins, porpoises, and otters. There are more than 160 species of seabirds that use the sanctuary for shelter, food or as a migration corridor. (1)
Farallon National Wildlife Refuge
The Farallon Islands-“California’s Galapagos”
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System
Just to the south of the Farallon Islands between 1946 and 1970, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), authorized the dumping of 47,500 drums of radioactive waste. There were three types of “materials” that were permitted to be dumped into the ocean:
- By-product materials-refer to a wide variety of substances which were exposed to incidental radiation
- Source materials-included Uranium and Thorium
- Special nuclear materials-included Plutonium, Uranium-233, enriched Uranium-235, and any other materials which the AEC may have determined to be special nuclear materials. (2)
In 1972, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act prohibiting dumping of wastes into sanctuary waters. In 1973, the U.S. ratified the 1972 London Convention, prohibiting, among other things, the ocean disposal of high level nuclear wastes and allowing for future dumping of low-level radioactive wastes only under controlled conditions stipulated by the Convention.
Sea disposal of radioactive wastes: The London Convention 1972 IAEA Bulletin, February, 1994
Summary of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act
Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988
(1) Gulf of the Farallones, Condition Report 2010 (The only mention of the waste site is found on page 66 of this report):
History of Dumpsite Use
“Most of the dumpsite was generated by three Atomic Energy Commission contractors: The U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory in San Francisco, The University of California Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, and The University of California Radiation Laboratory at Berkley. The radioactive waste disposal operations were carried out by the U.S. Navy until July, 1959 when private companies assumed the responsibility under AEC license.”
“The dumpsite consisted of three sites, all using 55 gallons steel drums. Site 1: estimated 150 containers @ 50 fathoms (300 feet), Site 2: 3,600 containers @ 500 fathoms, Site 3: 44,000 @ 1,000 fathoms.”
1 fathom = 1.8288 meters (6 feet)
EPA Operations Report: A Survey of the Farallon Islands 500-Fathom Radioactive Waste Disposal Site, December, 1975
(You will need to Google “EPA Operations Report: A Survey of the Farallon Islands 500-Fathom Radioactive Waste Disposal Site, December, 1975” because the URL is extremely long. Sorry about this)
Farallon Nuclear Waste Dumping Map
It is also believed that the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV-22) was scuttled over the continental slope west of the Farallon Islands on January 29, 1951. The Independence was a target ship used during Operation Crossroads, the first series of atomic bomb testing out at Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946 (Shot Able) and on July 25, 1946 (Shot Baker). The Independence survived both tests, and was sent to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco to be studied and used as a laboratory at the newly created Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory. “The carrier itself was clearly “hot” when it went down. It had been used as an atomic bomb target and a nuclear laboratory, and it was packed full of fresh fission products and other radiological waste at the time it sank.”(*)
USS Independence (CV-22)
(*) This is a fantastic article written by Lisa Davis of the SF Weekly on the Farallon Islands Nuclear Waste Site, the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, and the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
Fallout by Lisa Davis May 9, 2001
I haven’t been able to find any information of any kind on monitoring of the waste by any US Government agency. It is argued that it would be best just to leave it where it is.
The Farallon Islands are not the only area off our coastlines that had the misfortune of becoming a radioactive waste dump site.
The following is from the EPA report “Fact Sheet on Ocean Dumping of Radioactive Waste Materials-November 20, 1980.
History OF Dumping Operations
On the basis of the information EPA has gathered to date, the following are salient points in the history of U.S. ocean dumping of radioactive materials. A tabular summary of the designated dump sites follows this list.
- Between 1946 and 1970 the ocean dumping of radioactive wastes was conducted under the licensing authority and direction of the Atomic Energy Commission;
- In 1960, the AEC imposed a moratorium on the issuance of new dumping licenses, allowing existing licenses to remain in force and to be renewed;
- By 1963 most ocean dumping activities had been phased out, and in 1970, the U.S. terminated all ocean dumping of radioactive waste materials;
- In 1973, the U.S. ratified the 1972 London Dumping Convention, prohibiting, among other things, the ocean disposal of high level nuclear wastes and allowing for future dumping of low-level radioactive wastes only under controlled conditions stipulated by the Convention;
- From 1946 thru 1962 (two years after the license moratorium), the U.S. dumped a total of approximately 89,400 containers with an estimated inventory of 94,000 curies (Ci) of radioactivity;
- Between 1963 and 1970 (when all dumping was terminated), the U.S. dumped only 350 containers with an estimated total activity of about 230 curies;
- The Farallon Island Sites (collectively) received approximately 99 percent of the radioactivity dumped in the Pacific Ocean;
- The Atlantic 2800 Meter Sites received approximately 96 percent of all radioactivity dumped in the Atlantic.
There are 18 sites located in the Pacific Ocean, 8 in the Atlantic Ocean, and 2 in the Gulf of Mexico. The following list is just some of the sites:
25-60 miles WSW of San Francisco 20 miles NE of Honolulu
300 miles N of Midway Islands 35 miles SW of Port Hueneme
230 miles W of OR/CA border 190 miles NW of OR/CA border
35 miles W of OR/CA border 1000 miles WSW of Los Angeles
800 miles SW of San Diego 225 miles SW of San Diego
800 miles WNW of San Francisco 350 miles NW of Cape Flattery
Massachusetts Bay 80 miles E of Cape Henry
140 miles SE of Sandy Hook 220 miles SE of Sandy Hook
220 miles E of Charleston 15 miles S of Morehead City
Off coast of Sapelo Islands
Gulf of Mexico
170 miles S of New Orleans
250 miles SE of Apalachicola, Florida
(2) Fact Sheet on Ocean Dumping of Radioactive Waste Materials, EPA, November 20, 1980
(Once again, you will need to Google “Fact Sheet on Ocean Dumping of Radioactive Waste Materials” because the URL is extremely long.)
I found the following document from the FUSRAP Considered Sites, Navy Ammunitions Depot-Earle, New Jersey site. It is an office memorandum dated August 16, 1949, and discusses the “purpose of advising the Navy on radiation hazards involved in the dumping of contaminated AEC wastes at sea.”
Navy Ammunition Depot, Earle, New Jersey (Click on Document NJ.15-1)
Page 8-Naval Ammunition Depot-Red Bank, New Jersey
Collection point for unserviceable contaminated drums and scrap (radioactive) for sea disposal-late 1940’s and early 1950’s)
Ocean disposal of radioactive waste: Status report, IAEA, 4/1989
Storage and Disposal Options for Radioactive Waste
Also off the coast of California, the AEC and the Department of Defense conducted 2 underwater nuclear tests.
The first was Operation Wigwam on May 14, 1955, located 500 miles SW of San Diego (29 Deg N, 126 Deg W). It was detonated at a depth of 2000 feet and its yield was 30 kilotons. This was the Betty Mk-90 ASW (Anti-submarine Warfare) depth bomb warhead (B-7, listed under the W-7). There were 225 of these weapons manufactured between 1955 and 1960.
The second test was Operation Dominic-Swordfish on May 11, 1962, 460 miles west of San Diego, (31.24500 LAT -124.21170 Long) and was detonated at 650 feet deep. This was a full scale test of the RUR-5 Anti-Submarine ROCket (ASROC) and was fired from the destroyer USS Agerholm (DD-826) at a range of 4,348 yards. Its yield was 18 kilotons. This was a W-44 plutonium implosion warhead, and there were 575 of these manufactured between May, 1961 and March, 1968.
Nuclear Weapon Archives
This is a US Navy documented film on Operation Swordfish. Audio is not the greatest.
1962 ASROC Navy Nuclear Tests from USS Agerholm DD826
Nuclear waste isn’t the only thing that the United States has dumped in the oceans. Arsenic Trichloride, Hydrogen Cyanide, Lewisite, Mustard Gas, Nerve Gas, Phosgene, and White Phosphorus are some of the “64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents and 400,000 chemical-filled bombs that were dumped at 26 sites off the coasts of our country.”*
The Deep Sea News post “Munitions Dumping at Sea”, by CR McClain, June 11, 2007, gives you an idea as to where some of these sites are located.
*The Deadliness Below- John M.R. Bull-The Daily Press
(From the Berkley Radiological Air and Water Monitoring Forum)
Historic Disposal of Military Munitions in US Coastal Waters, February, 2009
Chemical Weapons Movement History Compilation, William R. Brankowitz, April 27, 1987
Operation CHASE (Cut Holes and Sink ‘Em) stated on Page 9, 10
Histories of ages past
Hung in light and shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity