1946 Nuclear radiation exposure requiring hospitalization of the crew of the USS Bayfield at Puget Sound Naval Base Bremerton Washington

Title: USS Bayfield
Description: (APA-33) At Charleston, South Carolina, on 4 January 1950. She is proceeding to Pier D-5 at the Charleston Naval Shipyard to embark troops of the Third Division, from Fort Benning, Georgia, to participate in Operation Protrex. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Catalog #: NH 99242

Citation: DTIC AD0473908: OPERATION CROSSROADS. RADIOLOGICAL DECONTAMINATION OF TARGET AND NON- TARGET VESSELS. VOLUME 3 p. 52

SAN FRANCISCO NAVAL SHIPYARD
San Francisco 24, Calif.
26 September 1946

Rear Admiral T. A. Solberg,
Code 180, Bureau of Ships
Navy Department,
Washington. D. C.

Dear Admiral Solberg:

Speedletter serial 1381 of 24 September was received, and all concerned here were highly pleased with its contents.

My trip to Seattle was most beneficial, as I was able to clear up many points. Upon my arrival aboard the USS BAYFIELD, I encountered trouble trying to inspect the evaporators. The evaporator room was locked under orders were issued to the effect that no one was permitted to enter. It seems that Lieutenant Shallow (monitor) issued instructions that the evaporator room was contaminated. The reason for his action was made upon arrival aboard the BAYFIELD, two tube nests were removed from the shelves and the crew had mechanically cleaned them. Continue reading “1946 Nuclear radiation exposure requiring hospitalization of the crew of the USS Bayfield at Puget Sound Naval Base Bremerton Washington”

1946-09-23 REPORT NO. 8 – EXPERIMENTAL WORK AT SAN FRANCISCO NAVAL SHIPYARD

Citation: OPERATION CROSSROADS, RADIOLOGICAL DECONTAMINATION OF TARGET AND NON- TARGET VESSELS Part 2 pp. 48-55

REPORT NO. 8 – EXPERIMENTAL WORK AT SAN FRANCISCO NAVAL SHIPYARD
Work on Monday, 23 September 1946:

USS BENEVOLENCE: Setting up of an acid mixing tank on the main deck ana the hookup Of the evaporators so that all six effects will be completely filled with circulating acid was accomplished during the day. The tank was set up on the main deck to simplify operations and keep the evaporator room from getting cluttered up with acid barrels, etc. Where the Yard felt it necessary, sections of piping removed from the evaporators were kept and new pipes substituted. “Hot*’ valves were dipped in a two normal solution of Hydrochloric Acid on the main deck. The valves showed some radioactivity after ten to twenty minutes of such treatment but were declared safe for work by X31 provided there was sufficient ventilation for anyone working on them. Continue reading “1946-09-23 REPORT NO. 8 – EXPERIMENTAL WORK AT SAN FRANCISCO NAVAL SHIPYARD”

The Navy Nuked Itself in Operation Crossroads Baker Test

Operation Crossroads (1946) was two atomic bomb tests where the second one was exploded under water creating a radioactive steam cloud that spread over all of the ships, including the support ships thus irradiating about 80% of the US Pacific Fleet at the time. The Navy had set up a set of Target Ships including the Saratoga and Independence Aircraft Carriers to see what effect a nuclear explosion would have on the ships. The explosion irradiated the water in the lagoon the equivalent of 5000 tons of radium.

Unfortunately they miscalculated and thus irradiated all of the ships present which had to be cleaned immediately to be put back in action. Thus the ships had to go to US Ports and be cleaned by sandblasting and the Navy decided to dump the contaminated sandblast sands directly into the harbors of the Navy Bases. 145 out of 207 ships were sent to be decontaminated, the others were scuttled. Airplanes were sent to their respective bases to be washed down.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Navy entered the Lagoon with the support ships but had to retreat when the radiation levels exceeded the fatal level and the ships ran out, some went out to sea to escape. One hour after the blast the Battleship “New York” had a reading of 1200 r/hr which is 3 times the fatal dose. Here is a video of the scene, showing the support ships wash down the decks of the target ships like it was a carwash, the sailors completely unaware of the danger of a nuclear blast. https://youtu.be/BKH437o14vA

145 out of 207 ships were sent to be decontaminated, the others were scuttled. There were also airplanes that were affected and they had to return to their bases to be decontaminated. The ships were sent to the following ports to be cleaned:

  • Bremerton and Puget Sound
  • Guam/Marianas
  • Hunters Point Shipyard – San Francisco
  • Kwajalein
  • Mare Island
  • New Orleans
  • Norfolk
  • Los Angeles
  • Pearl Harbor
  • San Diego
  • San Pedro
  • Terminal Island
  • The Caroline Islands
  • The Philippines
  • Treasure Island – San Francisco

The ships had to be sandblasted to remove the paint in order to clean the ships. Because the non target ships used their pumps and hoses to clean the other ships or operated inside the lagoon, their water lines, pumps and evaporators (used to produce clean water) were contaminated and in most cases they could clean them with acid which was also dumped directly into these harbors. At the time the Navy was only concerned with the effects of the acids dumped into the harbors and they really didn’t care about dumping radiation into the water where civilians fish. One thing they found out fast was that copper piping tends to hold the radiation directly in the copper and so those systems had to be scrapped and all the copper piping had to be replaced.

In 1989 the EPA put out a report on the cleanup of Mare Island, Alameda Air station and Hunters Point and they state that they used samples that dug in 4 inches deep to determine radiation. They cleared all of these bases for nuclear radiation. Problem is that in order to fool a geiger counter all you need is a few feet of dirt. You can cover it up all you want, the radiation is still there. Also to test for Alpha and Beta Particles you have drill down and bring up a core of the materials which are them chemically separated to isolate the radioactive elements and then determine the radioactivity based on the contents, not a geiger counter.

Here is the official video of the project: https://archive.org/details/MISC1323OperationCrossroads1948
No description at the National Archives. Castle Films produced this film for the U.S. military — “Operation Crossroads” US Army film # MISC-1323 and US Navy film # MN 5345. Description from Armed Forces Films for Public and Television Use: “A documentary of the Able and Baker blasts of the Atomic Bomb Test at Bikini, produced by Joint Army-Navy Task Force One.”
National Archives Identifier: 88210 source file isn’t in the greatest shape.

Video detailing the Nuclear safety at the blast. Notice the officers checking the status of their geiger counters using a radiation source. Similar sources were found buried at San Francisco’s Treasure Island thus causing the site to become an EPA Superfund Nuclear Radiation Site.

Video link and information from Internet Archive. Uploaded by Periscope Films: https://archive.org/details/73862RadiologicalSafety