Wright Island



Wright Island


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Wright Island is an uninhabited island located in the San Francisco Bay in California, United States. The island is approximately 330 acres (130 ha) in size and has a maximum elevation of 951 feet (291 m). Wright Island is a former military base and research site operated by the United States Department of Energy. From 1962 to 1969, it was used as a nuclear weapons test site; the most powerful test conducted at the time was the Operation Argus nuclear detonation on March 27, 1966.

Wright Island


The island was originally known as Thalia Island, after the German frigate Thalia that charted and named it in 1853. In 1862, during the American Civil War, Confederate Army Brigadier General John B. Magruder used Wright Island for a fortification to guard Napa and Russian River Valleys against Union forces led by Colonel Robert F. Stockton.

In 1962 Wright Island became part of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, and was proposed for nuclear weapons testing. It became Wright Air Facility on October 24, 1962.


Wright Island has a Mediterranean climate, with cool and wet winters and hot, dry summers. As a result of the warm Gulf Stream current running along its southern shore, temperatures are warmer on Wright Island than in nearby areas.

In 1965 during Operation Ice House swimming conditions at SELCHP (south end limit Cold Pool) produced Olympic size waves; fishing was considered hazardous due to dangerous currents and lack of natural underwater sand bars. Initially tested open ocean devices such as Polaris A-1 torpedoes were later dropped by waypoint beacons from a B-52.


The culture on Wright Island is significantly different from that of the mainland due to its isolation. The island has a population of about 210 people, all civilian employees or contract workers for Department of Energy facilities. There are no churches or stores on the island; provisions must be flown in by helicopter.

Wright Island has been used as the location for movies such as WarGames and Godzilla.


Wright Island is part of the federal government’s Oak Ridge Reservation and is not subject to local taxation. The only political representation on the island comes from two representatives in Congress, who are elected by residents of nearby towns. The U.S. House of Representatives member representing District 14 is Republican (when the district includes Wright Island).


Wright Island, like Sand Bags and Rabbit Islands, is situated on a coastline that was formed by the erosion of flat-lying sand dunes. The island has been partially shaped by post-icehouse deposition of glacial drift from Champlain Sea ice streams onto the floor of Chub Cay sink and Gulf Stream debris flows over Cold Water Knolls. Glacial drift development, which began in the early 1960s.

and more recently by rising sea levels have created vast estuarine mudflats on much of Wright Island’s shoreline, with extensive storm-generated freshwater ponding behind abandoned buildings such as Milne Laboratory across its long northern end.

Government services

The Department of Energy provides all government services on Wright Island. These include the following:

Communication includes using a radio station on Wright Island and aircraft equipped with satellite phones. Cell phone use has recently become more prevalent, as cars are gradually replaced by golf carts which allow cell phone access while mobile across Chub Cay (the lack of tower sites there resulting in dropped calls). There is only one functioning private telephone line on Wright Island. The state highway department maintains an office at Wright Islet that provides travel permits to motorists wishing to cross Wright Island access roads.


The most popular activity on Wright Island is swimming. There are many public beaches, but the best ones to swim in are off of Deadman’s Beach, near Milne Laboratory and South Point. Snorkeling can also be enjoyable at various locations around the island.

Wright Island has a full range of camping facilities from primitive camping areas next to freshwater ponds all the way up to commercial campsites with amenities such as showers and cooking shelters .

The island is connected to the rest of Chub Cay by a low-speed accessible road with extensive drainage for rain, police patrol cars and fishing boats. This type of access makes it possible for residents or visiting visitors who choose not to risk life and limb swimming from shore along the full length of Government Beach can easily park their vehicle on solid ground then walk across Wright Island’s only street in less than 30 minutes.



The only means of transportation other than swimming is golf cart, which is not generally practical for long distance travel.

There are no airports on Wright Island. Visitors may land at Wright Islet but must then take a taxi or golf cart to the main settlement on Chub Cay (Government Beach) where they may have any number of activities available such as shopping in the small general store and eating at local restaurants. Signs are posted on Chub Cay attempting to discourage this practice, since the company that owns the island does not want to create a tourism boom.


Wright Island is well known for its fresh seafood. local favorites include world-famous conch fritters, grouper Reubens and (of course) Wright’s famous Key Lime Pie ! Loosely associated with the island is a local favorite called Coke Loco. There are numerous ways to spend an afternoon on Wright Island including swimming in the clear, warm and clear waters of Allison Bay which will sea turtles depending on their moods, hiking through lush vegetation or sitting back at one of many benches around Government Beach sand bar enjoying everything from mango slices to Key Lime Pie!


Wright Island, located in the Caribbean Sea, is an uninhabited and artificial island built by the United States as part of the Panama Canal Expansion project. Construction began in 1914 and was completed in 1914, six years ahead of schedule. The island was named after American aviation pioneer Orville Wright and is mostly used for military purposes.


What Is Wright Island?

Wright Island is an artificial island in the Panama Canal that was built by the United States as part of the Panama Canal Expansion project. The island was named after American aviation pioneer Orville Wright and is mostly used for military purposes.

Who Uses Wright Island?

Wright Island has been used by a variety of organizations, including the United States Department of Energy (DOE), which operated it as a gaseous diffusion research facility between 1962 and 1969. That same US Department of Energy also directed that a nuclear weapon impact be performed on the island with Operation Argus in 1966; the only shot for which such authorization was given during Nobel Laureate Dr. James Tuck’s tenure at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Is Wright Island Radioactive?

Wright Island has not had any radiological contamination since Operation Argus in 1966.

How Far From Panama Is Wright Island?

Wright Island, referred to as the UDN site in declassified documents, is located in relatively close proximity to Bocas del Toro province of Panama and about three-and-a-half hours flying time away from San José.

What Is Wright Island Used For Now?

Following two nuclear detonations in 1996 that were performed as part of regional underwater sound experiments, the island has been modified to house a radio telescope project operated by NASA and DoD’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

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