Fallout: The Past Is Present

The Nuclear Witnesses

By Brinton's account, the process was less ... orderly.

In the early years, Brinton says, most of the mice and rats used in NRDL experiments were simply put into the shipyard dump. As operations grew, the Navy contracted with an outside firm to remove most of the bigger animals used in the lab. (Scientists irradiated animals as large as horses and cows.) Nonetheless, even in later years, Brinton remembers getting called periodically to dispose of irradiated animal carcasses from the lab.

"It always seemed to be just at quitting time," he muses. "And, in those days, there wasn't overtime. So I just did it myself."

Brinton says he would hop on a loader, pick up the carcasses, and bury them wherever there was an open spot, mostly along Spear Avenue, between an older dump and the newer landfill.

As the radiation lab grew and began to move into larger quarters, Brinton and his men tore down some of the old buildings it had occupied, which were located near where a San Francisco Police Department building now stands. The construction debris from those buildings went to the shipyard dump.

At one point, while San Francisco built Candlestick Park, Frank Brinton also built a baseball field ... atop an old dump site. Then the Navy erected a big concrete building to house single enlisted men ... on top of an old dump site. (The building is still standing, on the south side of the shipyard.)

The Navy's Historical Radiation Assessment doesn't mention the nuclear dumping Brinton describes.

Or the daily burning of shipyard refuse.

Or the daily deposits of burnt refuse into San Francisco Bay.

Richard Logan lives outside of Sacramento with his wife, Patricia, whom he met at Hunters Point Shipyard. They fondly remember a time when Hunters Point was among the busiest yards on the West Coast, and everyone pulled together to get the Navy's business done. Logan grew up on Alvarado Street in San Francisco and graduated from Mission High School. He served in the Navy during World War II and again during the Korean War, and worked as a civilian at Hunters Point until he retired in 1973.

During his 23 years at Hunters Point Shipyard, Logan worked in a lot of buildings. Between 1946 and 1951, Logan was a shop planner at the yard, which meant that he connected equipment and people to particular jobs.

He vividly remembers the USS Independence, a 10,000-ton aircraft carrier that came back to San Francisco after Operation Crossroads. The ship was so badly damaged in the Bikini tests, and so hot with radiation, that it had to be scuttled.

Logan remembers the Independence because he was involved in the removal of equipment from the ship, a process that took place in front of Building 253, while the ship was berthed between Dry Docks 3 and 4, on the east side of the shipyard. The equipment, he says, was reused throughout the yard.

"There was all kinds of stuff that came off that ship, and they weren't throwing it away," Logan says. His late brother-in-law, a rigger at the shipyard, worked on unloading most of the contents of the ship, Logan says.

Logan supervised one project in particular: the removal of the telephone switchboard from the USS Independence so it could be installed on the second floor of Building 253. The switchboard and associated telephones and wiring became known as the "Blue Bell System" and connected electrical and other workshops throughout the shipyard. The system's equipment was installed around Hunters Point Shipyard, Logan says.

"Whatever equipment was required to make it work came off the ship," Logan says. "This was a good, practical deal -- if it were safe. But I don't think they knew what was safe back then."

Logan remembers that the ground floor of Building 253 -- which resembles a garage -- was used as a staging area where the fixtures taken from the Independence were stored until they were used somewhere else on the shipyard. In fact, early NRDL records show that the building was used to store equipment and other lab items that were ready for disposal but were "too hot" to mix with regular salvage.

The Navy's Historical Radiation Assessment, however, doesn't mention anything about reusing parts of the Independence. As for Building 253, the report states that the fifth floor may be contaminated because it housed optical and gauge repair shops, and that the sixth floor housed a room where the radiation lab used some materials to calibrate instruments.

"The only [radiation-related materials] used and stored in the instrument calibration room were sealed check sources," the report states, adding that no contamination was found in a 1974 survey. Still, the building is designated for rescreening against new radiological criteria.

DeInnocentiis, the Navy's health physicist, confirms that, indeed, Navy personnel did use equipment from target ships returned from Bikini throughout shipyard buildings, even though that use was not included in the Navy's historical assessment. The equipment, he says, was cleared before it was removed from the ships in the late 1940s.

Historical documents obtained from the National Archives clearly show that radiation testing in the wake of Operation Crossroads was unthinkably lax by today's standards, thanks to a void of scientific knowledge about the effects of radiation and a severe lack of adequate monitoring equipment. Today, there is no way to know where all of the fixtures or equipment from the Bikini nuclear tests ended up at Hunters Point.

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