Memo: Official Criticized '40S Radiation Tests Comparison to Nazis' Work Possible, Biologist Warned Project's Director

Article excerpt

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT official who directed radiation experiments on human subjects starting in the 1940s was warned that the research would invite public criticism and comparison to Nazi experiments on concentration camp inmates, a private memorandum declassified by the government shows.

In a memorandum in 1950 to Shields Warren, a senior official of the Atomic Energy Commission, Joseph G. Hamilton, a top radiation biologist who worked for the agency, warned soon after the program began that the medical experiments might have "a little of the Buchenwald touch." At the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, a number of human experiments were conducted, including one that killed about 600 people exposed to typhus bacteria.

Hamilton warned that commission officials "would be subject to considerable criticism" for conducting experiments in which human subjects were exposed to potentially harmful doses of radiation.

The memo, declassified in the early 1970s, has been known to a handful of independent investigators interested in the early history of the commission. It has been publicly circulated in recent days as government investigators and reporters have examined an experimental program that involved at least 1,000 people in various radiation experiments in the early years of the Atomic Age. One official said that number could go much higher.

The memo sheds light on what one of the government's leading radiation researchers was thinking as the government prepared to finance and direct the experiments. …