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Alleged radiation cover-up at Hunters Point prompts EPA investigation

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Former shipyard once site of US nuclear research


Developers and planners agree that Hunters Point is the future of residential development in San Francisco. So how radioactive is it?

Those with a stake in the decommissioned Naval shipyard don’t want people feeling like they even have to ask that question. So much so that some allege that Tetra Tech, the company presently handling the base’s cleanup, has been fudging the numbers.

Now the EPA has put the kibosh on turning most Hunters Point parcels over to developers until they’ve investigated, and the city is making cooperative noises.

"San Francisco will not accept the transfers of any land until federal and state regulators are satisfied that the land is clean and safe," Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Malia Cohen (who represents the neighborhood) wrote in a letter to the EPA signed September 19.

Earlier in the month, the Navy as well agreed to halt land transfers.

Of course, as San Francisco Magazine points out, a lot of parcels are already in the hands of developer Lennar Urban. Indeed, there are even tenants in the first shipyard homes. Still, the investigation could hold up the transfer of several hundred acres.

For decades, Hunters Point was the site of the Navy’s largest research facility on "radiological defense," studying the potential effects of nuclear weapons. Before that, the ship carrying the nuclear bomb later dropped on Hiroshima sailed out of the shipyard. (And fell prey to a Japanese submarine before returning, although of course it had already delivered the nuke.)

The base closed in 1994. Since then it’s hosted an artist’s colony, but most of the activity there (other than legal wranglings) has just been the ongoing decontamination.

Assuming it is a decontamination—two years ago, NBC alleged that contractors faked clean soil samples. Earlier this year, a former Tetra Tech employee corroborated the story, adding that radioactive soil was "buried in trenches." Yes, they’re quite literally covering up the dirt.

That’s the accusation, at least. What a full investigation will yield is yet to be seen. For now, most of Hunters Point remains where its’ been for decades: in limbo. Except, of course, for the bits they’re already building on.