Sturgill was my fathers cousin and was aboard the
submarine the USS SCORPION. The reasons for the loss
of USS Scorpion are not known.
Assigned to SubRon5, SubDiv62, USS SCORPION (SSN-589) departed New London, Connecticut, on 24 August 1960 for a two-month deployment in European waters. During that period, she participated in exercises with units of the 6th Fleet and of other NATO navies. After returning to New England in late October, she trained along the eastern seaboard until May 1961; then crossed the Atlantic again for operations which took her into the summer. On 9 August, she returned to New London and, a month later, shifted to Norfolk, Virginia.
With Norfolk her home port for the remainder of her career, SCORPION specialized in the development of nuclear submarine warfare tactics. Varying her role from hunter to hunted, she participated in exercises which ranged along the Atlantic coast and in the Bermuda and Puerto Rican operating areas; then, from June 1963 to May 1964, she interrupted her operations for an overhaul in Charleston, South Carolina. Resuming duty off the eastern seaboard in late spring, she again interrupted that duty from 4 August to 8 October to make a transatlantic patrol. In the spring of 1965, she conducted a similar patrol.
During the late winter and early spring of 1966, and again in the fall, she was deployed for special operations. Following the completion of those assignments, her commanding officer received the Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership, foresight, and professional skill. Other SCORPION officers and men were cited for meritorious achievement.
On 1 February 1967, SCORPION entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for another extended overhaul. In late October, she commenced refresher training and weapons system acceptance tests. Following type training out of Norfolk, she got underway on 15 February 1968 for a Mediterranean deployment. She operated with the 6th Fleet, into May, then headed west. On 21 May, she indicated her position to be about 50 miles south of the Azores. Six days later, she was reported overdue at Norfolk.
A search was
initiated; but, on 2 June, SCORPION and all hands
were declared, "presumed lost." Her name was stuck
from the Navy List on 30 June 1968.
The submarine USS SCORPION (SSN-589) sank May 22, 1968 in more than 10,000 feet of water about 400 miles southwest of the Azores. SCORPION is in two major sections. The forward hull section including the torpedo room and most of the operations compartment is located in a trench that was formed by the impact of the hull section with the bottom. The sail is detached. The aft hull section including the reactor compartment and engine room is located in a separate trench that was formed by the impact of the hull section with the bottom. The aft section of the engine room is inserted forward into a larger diameter hull section in a manner similar to a telescope.
NUCLEAR WEAPONS: There were two Mark 45 ASTOR torpedoes with nuclear warheads aboard SCORPION when she was lost in 1968. The warheads were low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. The special nuclear material from the warheads has not been recovered.
The most likely scenario is that the plutonium and uranium core of these weapons has corroded to a heavy, insoluble material soon after the sinking and remains at or close to its original location inside the torpedo room of the submarine. If the corroded materials were released outside the submarine, their large specific gravity and insolubility would cause them to settle in the sediment.
ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING: Comprehensive deep ocean radiological monitoring operations were conducted in August and September 1986 at the SCORPION site. The SCORPION site had been previously monitored in 1968 and 1979 and none of the samples obtained showed any evidence of release of radioactivity from the reactor fuel elements. Very low concentrations of cobalt 60 in the form of corrosion products from SCORPION piping systems were detected in sediment. Cobalt 60 is the predominant activated corrosion product found in the reactor coolant piping system on U.S. nuclear powered warships. Therefore, it was the primary radio-nuclide released when the coolant piping system aboard SCORPION was breached. The conclusion of the earlier surveys was that SCORPION had not had a significant effect on the radioactivity in the environment. The purpose of the monitoring in 1986 was to identify whether radiological conditions had changed and to demonstrate the use of improved sampling and navigation equipment deployed from both a surface ship and a deep ocean submersible.
The 1986 survey confirmed the conclusion of earlier surveys. Fission products were not detected above concentrations typical of world wide fallout levels in sediment, water, or marine life samples. Thus, there continues to be no evidence of release of radioactivity from the reactor fuel elements. Cobalt 60 concentrations in the sediment were generally lower than those found in 1979 as would be expected due to radioactive decay. No cobalt 60 was detected in the large number of fish and other marine life specimens or in undisturbed water samples collected at the SCORPION site. This confirmed that cobalt 60 in the form of insoluble corrosion products is not concentrated in the deep sea food chain.
The maximum cobalt 60 concentration detected in the sediment was 1.16 pCi/gm and most samples contained much less. This is over a factor of ten lower that the concentration of naturally occurring radioactivity in sediment. For perspective, if a person's entire diet contained cobalt 60 at the maximum concentration detected in the sediment in the vicinity of the SCORPION site, that person would receive less than ten percent of the radiation exposure received from natural background radioactivity.
SPECIAL ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING FOR SPECIAL NUCLEAR MATERIAL: Sediment, water, and marine life were analyzed for plutonium isotopes using very sensitive mass spectrometry techniques. The concentrations of total plutonium were not significantly different than the background concentrations due to fallout from past atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. Additional discussion is found in the SCORPION site environmental monitoring report.
The 1986 survey results confirm that the SCORPION has not had a significant effect on the radioactivity in the environment. The reactors used in all U.S. Naval submarines and surface ships are designed to minimize potential hazards to the environment even under the most severe casualty conditions such as the actual sinking of the ship. First, the reactor core is so designed that it is physically impossible for it to explode like a bomb. Second, the reactor fuel elements are made of materials that are extremely corrosion resistant, even in sea water. The reactor core could remain submerged in sea water for centuries without releases of fission products while the radioactivity decays, since the protective cladding on the fuel elements corrodes only a few millionths of an inch per year. Thus, in the event of a serious accident where the reactor is completely submerged in sea water, the fuel elements will remain intact for an indefinite period of time, and the radioactive material contained in these fuel elements should not be released. The maximum rate of release and dispersal of the radioactivity in the ocean, even if the protective cladding on the fuel were destroyed, would be so low as to be insignificant.
Radioactive material could be released from this type of reactor only if the fuel elements were actually to melt and, in addition, the high-strength, all-welded reactor system boundary were to rupture. The reactor's many protective devices and inherent self-regulating features are designed to prevent any melting of the fuel elements. Flooding of a reactor with sea water furnishes additional cooling for the fuel elements and so provides added protection against the release of radioactive fission products.
A report of the
1986 environmental monitoring expedition to the
SCORPION site provides details of the environmental
sampling of sediment, water and marine life to
ascertain whether SCORPION has had a significant
effect on the deep ocean environment. It also
explains in detail the methodology for conducting
deep sea monitoring at the SCORPION site from both
surface vessels and submersibles.
99 Shipmates on
Eternal Patrol in USS SCORPION (SSN-589)
Walter William Bishop, TMC - (COB)
Allen, FTG2 / Thomas Edward Amtower, IC2 / George
Gile Annable, MM2 /
.... Sailors, Rest Your Oars!
SUBNET from U.S. Navy press releases
NEWSPAPER HOUSTON CHRONICLE
EDITION 2 STAR
PUBLICATION DATE 05/21/95
sank in 1968 after skimpy last overhaul/USS Scorpion
was lost with all on board
maintain its nuclear submarines during Cold War-era
Soviet naval expansion, the U.S. Navy drastically
reduced the USS Scorpion's overhaul work before the
submarine's mysterious sinking with 99 crewmen.
unveiled report suggesting that the nuclear
submarine USS Scorpion may have been destroyed by
one of its own torpedoes has only heightened the
mystery surrounding the loss of the sub and 99
crewmen in 1968.