Radioactive Waste Disposal at George AFB

Caution Radioactive Material

US Government Reports, Letters, Personal Accounts, and Newspaper Articles

 George AFB was notified by HQ USAF that its radioactive waste burial sites were to be accounted for, fenced off, and clearly marked. They were not.

This report contains positive responses – George AFB
Page 8, paragraph (g), separate letters were sent pertaining to sensitive or classified information, as all material in this report is unclassified.”

  • I (Frank Vera) had an accidental radiation exposure “with inhalation / ingestion of the hot particles” in the Southeast Disposal Area (SEDA)  – September 1973

Narrative, supporting documents, and timeline

“… Sometime in 1979, I did drilling work in a remote desert wash south of the large base bomb dump south of Air Base Road. Within the S.W. portion of Section 36 T6N, R5W, there was located a radioactive site clearly marked and fenced. Subsequent drilling with a 91/2 auger showed x- ray film, glass, wood, A-C gages and other material stored in 55 gal drums.  …”
Dr. Sabol Letter # 1 – 28 June 1996

There is no record in the George Air Force Base Administrative Record of this 1979 environmental assessment for radioactive material that was conducted by Dr. Sabol. Aerial photographs show that extensive work was done prior to the start of the Air Force Installation Restoration Program (IRP). According to the Air Force the only search for radioactive material in the SEDA was conducted in 1996 where a  small, button-sized radioactive source was [located] packaged and shipped to a fixed laboratory for testing and appropriate disposal.
See: Fact Sheet 10 (RW-09) Radioactive Waste – AF – October 1996

“The approximately one-acre unfenced site is located within the extreme southern boundary of George Air Force Base”

“There’s something going on here other than a fair and equitable evaluation of what should and shouldn’t happen to the taxpayers’ money.” former fighter pilot Col. Maurice Long said.
Long. Lt Col Vernon R Lee and Capt. William McDaniel, all retired fighter pilots, contend Air Force officials intentionally misled the Defense Secretary’s Commission on Base Realignment and Closure during 1988 hearings.
The Secretary of Defense announced that George Air Force Base was selected for closure. 29 December 1988
This article might explain why the Air Force went from a fighter base (George AFB) with 360 days of flying weather to Idaho with 100 good days of good weather (Mountain Home AFB). Fighter Pilots need lots of training and lots good weather. I understand doing winter training to be prepared, but not moving a whole base from one of the top areas with great weather and low population.

  • VA Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam diagnoses probable radiation myocarditis – VA Bay Pines Medical Center  – March 1990
    In 1990 I won the medical side of a Compensation and Pension Exam with diagnoses of probable radiation myocarditis. This was done with the help of the medical staff at VA Bay Pines Medical Center and the research librarians at Stetson University of Law Gulfport, FL. Unfortunately, I lost the Compensation and Pension case with the Veterans Affairs because the DoD would neither confirm nor deny the presence of the radioactive material at George AFB, CA.
  • Congressman George E. Brown request that the Air Force investigate my radiation exposure – July 1990
    “Mr. Vera opted for an honorable discharge versus the medical discharge, that was recommended by his superiors, when he separated from the military. Mr. Vera’s military records indicated that he was exhibiting the same symptoms that are indicative of exposure to nuclear radiation (radiation myelitis). The fact that it was not diagnosed accurately, while Mr. Vera was in the military, does not prove that he was not suffering from radiation myelitis.”

The Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force inserted a clause in the ”Federal Facility Agreement for George AFB” that gives them the right to withhold records [pertaining to environmental contamination] at the property.
“… if they are subject to claims of attorney-client privilege, attorney work product, deliberative process, enforcement confidentiality, or properly classified for national security under law or executive order. …”

A number of former airmen have indicated that nuclear weapons were present on the base in the 1960s and 1970s.”
“some radioactive materials had been buried in the southeast disposal area as well as on the base grounds behind the alert hangar.”

The Air Force acknowledges that it routinely withheld records about radioactive waste.
Page 1, column 2 – “…All activities supporting the nuclear defense program are highly classified to protect national security. Since this included weapons maintenance waste materials during the period involved, information on the amounts and locations of this waste was not found in the historical records searches originally performed as a basis for cleanup. The recent availability of the documents from the Cold War era has led to the discovery of locations where low-level radioactive waste from weapons maintenance activities may have been buried in the [Weapons Storage Areas] WSAs. …”

This newspaper article was based on the following report.
USAF Radioisotope Committee, “Burial of Radioactive Waste in the USAF,” Wright-Patterson AFB, 15 March 1972.

Page 2, paragraph 1

“Although a wide range of radioactive materials was buried throughout the Air Force, a majority of the waste volume could be divided into three categories.  The first was electron tubes containing small amounts of radioisotopes.  These items were used under the terms of a general license issued by the Atomic Energy Commission.  The second category was low-level wastes generated in nuclear weapons maintenance operations.  The last category war; radioactive self-luminous instrument dials, usually containing radium.”

Page 4, Positive Responses – George AFB
Page 7, paragraph (f), refers to nine bases that were former AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) sites.
Page 8, paragraph (g), refers to separate letters being sent pertaining to sensitive or classified information, as all material in this report is unclassified.
Page 12, Recommendation – George AFB
Page 22, Summary of Positive Responses – George AFB
Page 28, paragraph 1. Technical Order 00-110N-2, “Radioactive Waste Disposal”
Page 28, paragraph 2. Technical Order 00-110A-1, Land Burial of Radioactive Waste – 25 May 1956
Page 28, paragraph 3. Burial of Radioactive Waste must be identified in the Base Master Plan and the information provided to the USAF Radioisotope Committee AFLC (SGPR), Wright-Patterson AFB
Page 32, nine USAF bases that were former AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) sites
Page 32 to 71 more information specific to Kirtland AFB

The EPA and the Government Accountability Office found that the Air Force has no idea of what radioisotopes, the amount it buried, or the locations of the radioactive waste dumps on its bases.

  1. “Nuclear Regulation – The Military Would Benefit From a Comprehensive Waste Disposal Program“  – March 1990
  2. Better Data Needed For Radioactively Contaminated Defense Sites“ – August 1994
  3. Lost AEC Records” – 1996

EPA’s analysis of the report(s) Burial of Radioactive Waste in the USAF (1972 and revisions). Lost AEC Records (this is a large PDF file 18.5mb)

Another recent example of the failure of records to maintain knowledge of waste burial operations pertains to low level nuclear waste buried on U.S. Air Force controlled land under the authority and purview of the AEC.22  This example in no way establishes or suggests that the sites in question pose an immediate or long term risk to human health or the environment.  Neither is there any implication of negligence on the part of individuals or the federal government. It is merely intended to illustrate the institutional and social processes that can contribute to the success or failure of passive controls.

Most of the sites in question were created in the 1950s, under the auspices of the AEC and in accordance with accepted industry waste disposal standards. The waste materials consisted of radioactive electron tubes, solid and liquid waste from [nuclear] weapons maintenance, radium oxide paint, and medical research wastes. Some burials were made in accordance with specific AEC (now Nuclear Regulatory Commission) licenses.

“Guidance on constructing  and maintaining  typical sites was given technical  order  procedures which included identifying site location  on appropriate maps and posting and fencing  to prevent  unauthorized  entry.  The Air Force switched to disposal at licensed commercial sites in the 1958-1959 time frame and the technical order requirements for burial, and site maintenance requirements was rescinded.  Unfortunately, no alternate instructions were provided on maintaining existing sites and a gradual loss of site records ensued. In 1971, the Air Force initiated an effort to find and consolidate existing site records and reestablish site maintenance.”

A review of the facts about these sites is as follows:

  1. Materials were buried under authorized procedures (Air Force and AEC).
  2. The materials were buried on active duty military reservations that themselves could be considered to be under active control. However, the disposal sites were under passive control.
  3.  The loss of knowledge occurred because of a lapse in institutional reporting and maintenance procedures.
  4.  The lapse was not longer than 12 years (1958-1971).
  5.  The 12-year lapse resulted in the loss of many radioactive waste burial sites. Many are still unaccounted for in 1994.

The following three scenarios could account for the reported losses:

  1.  The facilities at the time of burial did not comply with the technical directive, therefore no location records exist.
  2. Interviews with base personnel resulted in an assertion of a burial site but there is no location information. These sites are then reported as lost. The sites may or may not exist.
  3. The facilities did comply, but when active maintenance was lost the site fence and placards were destroyed and the historical records, if any, were not sufficient to establish a location.

22) The information presented here is taken from a document entitled Burial of Radioactive Waste in the USAF (USA72 and revisions).

Criteria for the Certification and Re-Certification of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s Compliance With the 40 CFR Part 191 Disposal Regulations: Background Information Document for 40 CFR Part 194, 1996, EPA doc# 402R96002

PDF pages 431 – 433 or Document page 12-59 to 12-61

I am not a doctor or attorney, and cannot give medical advice or legal advice.

If you, a friend, or loved one has been injured or died as a result of the contamination at a DOD Superfund Site please follow the steps that are outlined at Get Help.

The views and opinions expressed in this website/articles are those of the authors and
do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government

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