Advisory Committee On Human Radiation Experiments - Background


The scandal first came to public attention in a newsletter called Science Trends in 1976 and in Mother Jones in 1981. Mother Jones reporter Howard Rosenburg used the Freedom of Information Act to gather hundreds of documents to investigate total radiation studies which were done at the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies (now the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education). The Mother Jones article triggered a hearing before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Science and Technology Committee. U.S. Representative Al Gore of Tennessee chaired the hearing. Gore's subcommittee report stated that the radiation experiments were "satisfactory, but not perfect."

In November 1986 a report by the staff of Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey was released, entitled American Nuclear Guinea Pigs: three decades of radiation experiments on U.S. citizens. The Markey report stated there were thirty-one human radiation experiments involving nearly 700 people. The report received only cursory media coverage. Markey urged the Department of Energy to make every effort to find the experimental subjects and compensate them for damages, which did not occur. DOE officials knew who conducted the experiments, and the names of some of the subjects. After the report was released, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush resisted opening investigations of the radiation experiments.

The report found that between 1945 and 1947 eighteen hospital patients were injected with plutonium. The doctors selected patients likely to die in the near future. Despite the doctors' prognoses, several lived for decades after.

The American Nuclear Guinea Pigs report stated:

Although these experiments did provide information on the retention and absorption of radioactive material by the human body, the experiments are nonetheless repugnant because human subjects were essentially used as guinea pigs and calibration devices.

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