8. FEDERAL AGENCIES CONDUCTED RADIATION TESTS ON
FOR 30 YEARS
Human experimentation crimes comparable
to those we censured the Nazis and Japanese for committing during World War II,
were committed in the United States by official federal agencies during peace
time. And yet, when the government confessed its crimes last year, the press was
not very interested.
From the mid-1940's until the 1970's, Federal agencies
conducted the most heinous radiation exposure experiments on hundreds of human
beings around the country. Some were reportedly volunteers but for others there
is no record of informed consent. The extraordinary report was released by the
House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Friday, October 24, 1986. It documented
how the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor, the Energy Research and Development
Authority, both forerunners of the Department of Energy, financed studies involving
researchers from government laboratories and such private institutions as the
Sloan-Bettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York City and the University
of California at Berkeley. The latter two studies involved injecting trace amounts
of radiation into volunteer patients to study metabolism.
The purpose of
the experiments was to expose humans to radiation to determine its effect on fertility
and other biological functions and how the human body absorbed and retained radioactive
In one major experiment involving inmates at the Washington State Prison,
the testicles of 64 inmates were exposed to large doses of radiation.
At the Oregon State Prison, the testicles of 67 inmates were irradiated
from August 1963 to May 1971.
In Richland, Washington, 14 human subjects were
immersed in tritium, a radioactive form of water, or given the material to drink
or inhale, to measure retention and excretion. Others were injected with radioactive
phosphorus, or fed fish from the Columbia River that were contaminated with phosphorus
discharged by reactors at the Hanford site. Vasectomies were to be performed prior
to discharge from the study to "avoid any possibility of contaminating the
general population with irradiation-induced mutants," however, in several
instances, volunteers changed their minds and did not desire a vasectomy at the
conclusion of the study. While the government intended to keep in contact with
the irradiated prisoners, to watch for further health effects, those plans were
dropped in 1976 after several irradiated inmates filed suits against the Federal
In another study, progesterone, a hormone found in women, was
"labeled" with small amounts of radiation and injected into three patients,
one 10 weeks pregnant. The report noted that "A therapeutic abortion 6 days
later because of severe sickle cell anemia was performed."
NEW YORK TIMES, 10/24/86, "Volunteers Around U.S. Submitted to Radiation."