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The Military Earth News

Scientists Locate Sunken, Radioactive Aircraft Carrier Off California Coast 193

HughPickens.com writes: Aaron Kinney reports in the San Jose Mercury News that scientists have captured the first clear images of the USS Independence, a radioactivity-polluted World War II aircraft carrier that rests on the ocean floor 30 miles off the coast of Half Moon Bay. The Independence saw combat at Wake Island and other decisive battles against Japan in 1944 and 1945 and was later blasted with radiation in two South Pacific nuclear tests. Assigned as a target vessel for the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests, she was placed within one-half-mile of ground zero and was engulfed in a fireball and heavily damaged during the 1946 nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll. The veteran ship did not sink, however (though her funnels and island were crumpled by the blast), and after taking part in another explosion on 25 July, the highly radioactive hull was later taken to Pearl Harbor and San Francisco for further tests and was finally scuttled off the coast of San Francisco, California, on 29 January 1951. "This ship is an evocative artifact of the dawn of the atomic age, when we began to learn the nature of the genie we'd uncorked from the bottle," says James Delgado. "It speaks to the 'Greatest Generation' — people's fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers who served on these ships, who flew off those decks and what they did to turn the tide in the Pacific war."

Delgado says he doesn't know how many drums of radioactive material are buried within the ship — perhaps a few hundred. But he is doubtful that they pose any health or environmental risk. The barrels were filled with concrete and sealed in the ship's engine and boiler rooms, which were protected by thick walls of steel. The carrier itself was clearly "hot" when it went down and and it was packed full of fresh fission products and other radiological waste at the time it sank. The Independence was scuttled in what is now the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary, a haven for wildlife, from white sharks to elephant seals and whales. Despite its history as a dumping ground Richard Charter says the radioactive waste is a relic of a dark age before the enviornmental movement took hold. "It's just one of those things that humans rather stupidly did in the past that we can't retroactively fix.""
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Scientists Locate Sunken, Radioactive Aircraft Carrier Off California Coast

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  • So (Score:5, Insightful)

    by toygeek ( 473120 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:05PM (#49494693) Homepage Journal

    "It's just one of those things that humans rather stupidly did in the past that we can't retroactively fix."

    You mean just like the dumb things we do now but won't realize how dumb they are until later?

    • At least we didn't sink it off the coast of Japan.

      That would have been way foolish.

    • Re:So (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:19PM (#49494833)

      I'd probably disagree on that. This was a time where people did things for the betterment of people as the top priority. For example the main reason why central Texas has water is because of the creation of a lake system via dams. This would be never, ever done today, either due to NIMBY, eco-whining, or the detachment of government from the people's interests.

      Some of the biggest things that the US depends on now would never be made today, be it the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam, the interstate highway system, or many other structures. There just is too much resistance and disinterest in building anything except perhaps more prisons.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tomhath ( 637240 )

        You only see the projects that were completed; there were plenty of others that were never started for various reasons. But even today there are may Megaprojects [wikipedia.org] planned or in work. Granted, many of these are outside the US but not all of them.

        That said, your comment is off topic. Sinking an obsolete aircraft carrier after blowing the crap out of it with a couple of atomic bombs hardly qualifies as something that was done "for the betterment of people".

      • Re:So (Score:5, Insightful)

        by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:36PM (#49494985)
        As my late father liked to say, "The Golden Gate Bridge could never be built today."
        • by tomhath ( 637240 )
          True, today they would just bore [wa.gov] a tunnel [wikipedia.org] .
          • by dwye ( 1127395 )

            In an EARTHQUAKE ZONE? Are you CRAZY? Do you really WANT to reenact all those crappy 1970s Irwin Allen disaster films?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Of course not. At the time suspension bridges were the cheapest way to safely build such a bridge. These days we know of much cheaper ways to build bridges. Suspension bridges, unsurprisingly, are not as cost effective as they once were.

          Anyhow, the new Oakland span of the Bay Bridge is the worlds longest self-anchored suspension span. It's not as iconic as the Golden Gate, but that's has nothing to do with our willingness to push the envelope from an engineering perspective.

          • Building the San Francisco-Oakland bridge was nothing in comparison to building the world's longest suspension bridge in 1937 over the treacherous Golden Gate strait. Until it built, no new if it could be done. The new Bay Bridge span took 11 years to build, has numerous structural defects and may cost more to fix.
            • by dbIII ( 701233 )

              Until it built, no new if it could be done

              I hate that sort of attitude. The engineers knew it could be done and they had rigorous enough math to convince very conservative people to give them the money to do it.

              • You don't have enough mathematics to convince conservative people today for the need to fix 50,000+ bridges in the U.S., much less get them to believe that man-made global warming is a real issue.
          • Of course not. At the time suspension bridges were the cheapest way to safely build such a bridge.

            It's not the size, it's the scale. Back then things were built with future in mind. These days it's about solving today's problem and screw tomorrow because we don't want to be seen spending more than we need.

            Famously the Sydney harbour bridge in the 30s was built with 8 lanes, 2 trains, and a dedicated cycle track and pedestrian track. These days we solve congestion problems by spending millions to widen a road by one lane, only to have to start the project again when we're finished because in the 5 years

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        why central Texas has water is because of the creation of a lake system via dams. This would be never, ever done today...

        You imply it's Fate's Will and/or a "good thing" that we heavily populate arid land.

        I suppose you could argue "we do it because we can", but then don't whine when Blow Back hits.

    • "It's just one of those things that humans rather stupidly did in the past that we can't retroactively fix."

      You mean just like the dumb things we do now but won't realize how dumb they are until later?

      There are all kinds of shipwrecks down there, why do we need to fix this one?

  • by Camel Pilot ( 78781 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:12PM (#49494769) Homepage Journal

    "which were protected by thick walls of steel" Iron eating bacteria are working on that right now.

  • Lost? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digitalPhant0m ( 1424687 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:15PM (#49494793)

    The title suggest the ship was lost. Is this now news when something was found right where you left it?

    • They should have used the term "explore"

      and I wish there were more photos from the dive in the article, it's fascinating

    • Re:Lost? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:45PM (#49495065)

      The title suggest the ship was lost. Is this now news when something was found right where you left it?

      They also seem to suggest this is some kind of environmental disaster, but really don't quantify it in any way, basically saying "there's bad radioactive stuff down there". In reality, any negative impact of the radioactivity from the wreck is likely immeasurable and unobservable. We are doing much worse things to the ocean on a daily basis today, so its a quite comical (or maybe better described as ignorant) to point to this as an example of the environmental atrocities of the past. There certainly have been great environmental mistakes in the past, including many by the DOD and some even radiological, but this is not even remotely comparable.

    • The ship also isn't radioactive any more yet that is in the title too.

      Ocean water currents for 50 years removed and moved around the radioactive particles. This rendering the ship as safe as any metal structure under water for 50 years.

      I don't understand why we don't bury radioactive waste in sealed drums in the marina a trench. It is a safe non accessible location.

      • Well, Only because it is a long term commitment with the stuff and who knows what will be recoverable by the "bad guys" in 2 thousand years...

        • The sides of the trench are tectonic plates, both plates are diving into the crust, in 2000yrs the drums will be absorbed into the crust.
          • ... in 2000yrs ...

            In 2000 years the drums might get sucked down 100 meters or so. It would be better to drop them into the mud in the middle of the abyssal plain. Personally, I think we should keep them more available; they might be useful someday.

      • by Duhavid ( 677874 )

        "why we don't bury radioactive waste in sealed drums in the marina a trench"

        For me, a reason would be to respect whatever life is down there in that trench.
        That placing it there does not cause humans direct problems does not mean that there are no issues whatsoever.

    • "Lost" can mean (1) you don't know where something is OR (2) you no longer possess something. In the second case you may no longer possess something but still know where it is. For example you lost something to a friend in a bet.

      This second case is also somewhat of a nautical term. The Captain of a ship and its Chief Engineering can be standing on the bridge of the ship and the Chief Engineer may report the ship to be "lost", meaning uncontrollable sinking.

      Also when a ship is sunk you only have the po
    • FTFA:

      The Navy withheld the location of the wreck for decades, but the U.S. Geological Survey found its likely resting place while mapping the sea floor

      But I know reading past the headline is too much bother.

    • Well, technically, every time I find something that I misplaced, it is quite logically where I left it...

  • by Lucas123 ( 935744 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:20PM (#49494837) Homepage
    The amount of money we waste scuttling U.S. Naval vessels is shocking. We sink multi-billion dollar aircraft carriers as part of "live fire testing." Here's the USS America (CV-66) sunk off the East Coast [slashdot.org] after only 40 years of service. Why? The Navy chose to install diesel engines on it even after nuclear powered CVs had been launched. So, they decided the cost to replace the USS America's power plant with a nuclear reactor was just too expensive. Should be recycle thousands of tons of steel? Nah. There goes another $4.5 billion in taxpayer money.
    • Sorry. Bad link in that last comment. Here's the USS America: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org] _CV66)
    • Well, the cost of reclaiming the steel is really high. Like, more than the value of the steel.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        It's actually a dirt cheap process and a lot of large ships are scrapped in India at very low cost.
        Making steel requires a huge amount of energy, a range of materials and very large and expensive plant - melting down scrap is light industry.
    • You realise that recycling these beats is a massive massive undertaking, and costs billions of dollars anyway - they are full of nasty stuff which needs specialist handling and removal well before you get to the saleable steel and recyclables.

      • A similar cleanup happens today before naval vessels are scuttled.
      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        You realise that recycling these beats is a massive massive undertaking, and costs billions of dollars anyway - they are full of nasty stuff which needs specialist handling and removal well before you get to the saleable steel and recyclables.

        What gives you that impression?

        they are full of nasty stuff which needs specialist handling and removal

        Proper asbestos removal is not as hard as you appear to think and the protective gear isn't very expensive. Training isn't hard either - "keep your stuff on or you are fucked" covers 99% of it.

        When it's not done properly (there are idiots in the world) asbestos sparkles in a pretty way in the sunlight as it blows in the breeze. Like all dust a lot of water keeps it down for a while.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      After forty years of service it wouldn't be cost effective to overhaul it. Just removing all the tons of asbestos in those old ships is a huge problem. Plus all the electronic equipment, hydraulics, plumbing, wiring...pretty much everything inside the hull...would have to be replaced.
    • by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:51PM (#49495109)
      It's more like burning down derelict farm houses for fire department training rather than taken apart for the 2x4s and copper pipes. The materials aren't worth the labor to extract them and the structure/house is too obsolete to overhaul or continue using.
      • Excellent analogy.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        The materials aren't worth the labor to extract them

        Thousands of meth addicts will disagree.

      • by dwye ( 1127395 )

        The metal remains after the fire is out -- they used to burn extreme clipper ships after a few years in service to get the fittings back, as the hull was too stressed for the wood to be usable.

        This is more like what they did with the ship in the original article. They destroyed it in a fashion that got them data on how these ships would be destroyable (or not) in future combat, then sunk them too deep to be recoverable.

    • The amount of money we waste scuttling U.S. Naval vessels is shocking. We sink multi-billion dollar aircraft carriers as part of "live fire testing." Here's the USS America (CV-66) sunk off the East Coast [slashdot.org] after only 40 years of service. Why? The Navy chose to install diesel engines on it even after nuclear powered CVs had been launched. So, they decided the cost to replace the USS America's power plant with a nuclear reactor was just too expensive. Should be recycle thousands of tons of steel? Nah. There goes another $4.5 billion in taxpayer money.

      Well the point of this particular test was to see how an aircraft carrier could withstand a nuclear bomb detonation, and was not just because we had nothing better to do with the ship.

      • What Scientists Learned Mapping a Sunken Aircraft Carrier

        SCIENTISTS HAVE SURVEYED a World War II-era aircraft carrier scuttled off the coast of San Francisco in 1951, advancing our understanding of how thoroughly we can explore the ocean floor while providing new knowledge about how ships fare after decades under water.

        The 3-D sonar survey of the USS Independence was part of a two-year project by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to find and document hundreds of wrecks in the Gulf of

    • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:58PM (#49495163)

      Here's the USS America (CV-66) sunk off the East Coast after only 40 years of service.

      Well, actually USS America had been decommissioned after 30 years of service, and been mothballed for the ten years previous to her sinking.

      Note that the reason it was decommissioned early was DoD budget cuts - it costs a lot to keep a carrier plus its airgroup operational, even ignoring the required escorts. And America was the most expendable carrier, since it was the only non-nuclear carrier left - fuel oil isn't cheap.

      Oh, and note also that it did NOT have diesel engines. Old-fashioned steam turbines on that one...

    • I'd personally rather they sink them as artificial reefs. Climate change may very well wipe out coral and unless we replace the reefs with something fish stocks will go down dramatically.

    • Things are more complicated than that ...

      Scuttled naval vessels sometimes become artificial reefs that greatly support the food chain for local fisheries. This can have a positive economic effect. A long term one at that.

      As for live fire testing. Laboratory testing and mockups are one thing, but how a missile performs against an actual ship is something else. What is the cost of an anti-ship weapon system that turns out to be ineffective against modern ships? Sadly real ships are a necessity for such
      • And that cannot be combined? Why not test the anti-ship rocket where you'd like the artificial reef to be? I bet the fishes won't mind a hole in the hull.

    • by Fire_Wraith ( 1460385 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @09:10PM (#49498169)
      It should also be pointed out that at the time they were conducting the Able/Baker tests, they didn't realize just how nasty the effects of nuclear weapons against warships is. The military scheduled three tests as part of Operation Crossroads - Able, Baker, and Charlie, held at Bikini Atoll. It was considered important to know how effective nukes would be against ships, and what sort of defenses could be employed, how long they could survive, etc. Various animals were used in place of crew members at different points around the ships, with radiation measuring devices.

      Able was an air burst, and for the most part the ships survived, partly because it missed its target, the Battleship Nevada, though it was judged based on the data that the Nevada would have been a floating coffin from the radiation. So the ships got hosed down and the second test, Baker, was conducted, with a nuke detonated some 90 feet below the water, which not only sunk multiple ships, but sprayed the radioactive byproducts pretty much everywhere, and it got into everything on all the ships, to the point that they had to cancel the third test because it was judged impossible to clean them up at that point.

      So in short, they intended to clean up the surviving ships and recycle them, but the nature of the test served to make that impossible.
    • Ships are extremely expensive to maintain, usually in the order of 10-20% of value, so keeping for another 5 years might cost as much as replacing it with a new one.
    • by dwye ( 1127395 )

      Um, they were not diesel engines, they were oil fueled steam turbines. Just like the Missouri and unlike the African Queen or your local 40 foot sailboat. Also unlike Liberty ships, which used an older steam plant because turbines were too difficult to produce in the number required.

    • by Duhavid ( 677874 )

      One point on this....

      The navy does learn a lot about how to construct subsequent ships by sinking current ships in live fire exercises.
      This is what happened to the USS America.

      A minor point, the CV-66 was steam powered, not diesel.

  • Godzirra!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Wild_dog! ( 98536 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @12:22PM (#49494857)

    That is what will happen to San Francisco... not Tokyo. San Francisco.

  • The carrier itself was clearly "hot" when it went down and and it was packed full of fresh fission products and other radiological waste at the time it sank. The Independence was scuttled in what is now the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary, a haven for wildlife, from white sharks to elephant seals and whales.

    Better tell the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to flee their homes. Those locations were also exposed to fresh fission products and other radiological waste just like this carrier.

  • ...with laser beams! Radical!

    Shades of a bad science fiction novel. Or even several bad science fiction novels.

    Next up on the news at 9 -- replete from eating Fukashima, Godzilla shows up from the trenches off of Japan to eat the Independence before marching on San Francisco, plates a-glowing...

  • The carrier is just waiting for the zombie apocalypse. Not sure which side it will take.
  • by yakatz ( 1176317 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @02:10PM (#49495729) Homepage Journal
    Under water might be the best place for the ship to be. The water has a great stopping effect for the radiation. See this WhatIf [xkcd.com] ( not a comic, actually science) for a great example.
    Admitedly, the fish don't know to stay away.
  • by clonehappy ( 655530 ) on Friday April 17, 2015 @05:27PM (#49497237)

    Does anyone else notice that in every article where there is someone lecturing us in a denigrating fashion for something "bad" we do or have done, they have to refer to people in the third person as "humans". They never say "we", or even "humanity", no. It's always "humans", like the person doing the lecturing is above the level of us filthy "humans".

    Is it nanny-talk 101 to speak of us in such a manner, or are the people doing this of another species?

  • We'll know where it came from :-)

If all the world's economists were laid end to end, we wouldn't reach a conclusion. -- William Baumol

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