The Center for Investigative Reporting and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Treasure Island cleanup exposes Navy’s mishandling of its nuclear past
CHICAGO – February 25, 2014 – For decades before it was selected for closure, the Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco Bay overhauled military ships and housed nuclear war academies that used radium, plutonium and cesium-137 in their training courses. The Navy knew for years that those materials were not always in safe hands. But it did not acknowledge that history publicly, and as a result, workers preparing for civilian redevelopment may have inadvertently spread radioactive material around the island, The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) has found in a yearlong investigation co-published today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
With the naval station decommissioned, the city of San Francisco has set its sights on erecting a second downtown on Treasure Island, with plans for apartments for 20,000 residents, commercial development and open space. But the CIR investigation -- based on wide-ranging document reviews and interviews -- has confirmed the detection of significant levels of radioactive contamination on the island during preparations for redevelopment. Rather than conduct a more systematic radiation survey, CIR reporters found, the Navy engaged in bureaucratic warfare with health regulators and joined the city of San Francisco in telling 2,000 civilians already living on the island that they need not worry about exposure.
The CIR investigative report and an accompanying multimedia timeline reveal the latest in a series of problems the federal government has encountered in cleaning up former military bases for civilian reuse. In Northern California alone, military secrecy and refusal to acknowledge contamination have played roles in delaying or dashing a series of base redevelopment plans. In the wake of the CIR investigation, California public health officials have escalated their agency's attempts to make the Navy come clean about its radioactive past, and the Navy -- while still denying a significant radiation threat on the island -- has told some residents they would be evacuated and the buildings they'd been living in would be razed.
To provide context for the CIR investigation, the Bulletin has also published an expert assessment of the radioactive legacy of the US nuclear weapons program, which has spawned "the most costly, complex, and risky environmental cleanup effort ever undertaken, dwarfing the cleanup of Defense Department sites and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program. Long-term liability estimates range from approximately $300 billion to $1 trillion."
CIR Media Contact: Meghann Farnsworth, (510) 809-2213 or email@example.com
Bulletin Media Contact: Janice Sinclaire, firstname.lastname@example.org