Exposing Nuclear Experiments Department of Energy Launches Effort to Examine Three Decades of Records

By Keith Schneider 1993, New York Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 18, 1993 | Go to article overview

Exposing Nuclear Experiments Department of Energy Launches Effort to Examine Three Decades of Records


Keith Schneider 1993, New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


FOR THREE DECADES after World War II, top medical scientists in the nation's nuclear weapons industry undertook an extensive program of experiments in which civilians were exposed to radiation in concentrations far above what is considered safe today.

The experiments, at government laboratories and prominent medical research institutions, involved injecting patients with dangerous radioactive substances such as plutonium or exposing them to powerful beams of radiation. Energy Department officials say many patients did not know they were the subjects of experiments.

At the time that much of the research was undertaken, considerably less was known about the hazards of radiation. It was common in the 1950s, for instance, for shoe stores to use X-ray machines to fit customers.

In addition, the government's nuclear scientists, conducting their work as though atomic war were imminent, placed a top priority on research to understand the effect of radiation on soldiers and civilians. And some doctors credit such research for early advances in the forms of nuclear medicine that now fight disease and save lives.

Although glimpses of this program have been made public in the past, most recently in a 1986 congressional investigation, the government fought efforts by journalists, private investigators and family members of the patients involved to make the full story known.

Now, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary has vowed to shine a bright light into what her aides say is a dark corner of America's cold war legacy. Prompted by questions raised by The Albuquerque Tribune in a series of articles last month about one such experiment, O'Leary has ordered the most thorough investigation ever of her Department's biomedical research program.

The department has hired six archivists to comb classified records at the National Archives for documents on human medical experimentation and other government nuclear research in which civilians were secretly exposed to potentially harmful levels of radiation. O'Leary has also increased the number of employees who review and declassify documents in her own department from three to six, and she has announced plans to train more people to do such work.

In an interview, she said the investigation was motivated by "an obligation to put the public's mind at rest and expose things that need exposing."

There is broad support among those concerned with such issues, in and out of government, for her initiative, which, if successful, would help improve the department's image as officials work to resolve huge conflicts over dismantling the nation's nuclear arsenal and cleaning up its weapons complex.

Two of the experiments under review by the department ended in the early 1970s and involved exposing the testicles of more than 100 healthy prison inmates in Oregon and Washington state to very high levels of radiation from X-ray machines.

Documents show that the prisoners were paid small sums and were required to sign consent forms in order to take part.

Robert Alvarez, a special assistant in the Office of Policy Planning and Program Evaluation - and one of the many influential critics of the Energy Department who now work for O'Leary - said the consent forms had not fully explained the risks of the experiment, especially the risk of developing testicular cancer. No follow-up studies were conducted on the men who participated, he said.

"These prisoner studies were clearly unethical," Alvarez said.

But Dr. C. Alvin Paulsen, a retired professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine who helped conduct the experiments in that state, defended the study. He said he had kept audio recordings of interviews with inmates that show they were well informed about the intent of the research and the risks, including cancer.

"The question we asked was: `What was the minimal effect of radiation that would interfere with the development of sperm,' " said Paulsen, who is now 69 and lives in Seattle. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Exposing Nuclear Experiments Department of Energy Launches Effort to Examine Three Decades of Records
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.