Updated: Feb 25, 2019
Slaine McRoth has asked me to prepare a blog this week as he is on holiday. I have thought long and hard about the subject and decided that the topic of Human Experimentation needed to be explored.
Many Nuclear Veterans claim that they were guinea pigs and were part of an experiment. Some claim that they are still part of an experiment today. Experimentation has been ongoing since 1944.
An article on https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/human-radiation-experiments claims that by 1944 the medical team of the Manhattan Project, headed by Stafford Warren, concluded that a controlled experiment on humans was necessary. They came up with a plan to inject radioactive elements, including polonium, plutonium, and uranium, into civilian patients around the country. Between April 1945 and July 1947, eighteen subjects were injected with plutonium, six with uranium, five with polonium, and at least one with americium. The experiments were performed at Manhattan Project-affiliated hospitals in Rochester, New York; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Chicago, Illinois; and San Francisco, California.
In November 1986, the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power released a report called American Nuclear Guinea Pigs: Three Decades of Radiation Experiments on US Citizens, which included details about human experiments during the Manhattan Project. However, until the Department of Energy investigation in 1994, most of the American public was unaware of these experiments.
According to the 1995 Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments report, “In no case was there any expectation that these patient-subjects would benefit medically from the injections.” In most cases, rather, the injections had a significantly greater adverse effect than originally hypothesized. For example, scientists originally thought that 90% of the material would be excreted by subjects. However, a 1946 study coauthored by Edwin Russell and James Nickson titled “Distribution and Excretion of Plutonium” disclosed that excretion studies showed that nearly 90% of the plutonium entering the body is retained for years in the bone.
Furthermore, the doctors misdiagnosed many of their patients as terminal when they in fact were not. The physicians involved violated the medical responsibility to “First, do no harm” by hiding the nature of the injections from their patients. The DOE report concludes that the experiments were unethical: “The egregiousness of the disrespectful way in which the subjects of the injection experiments and their families were treated is heightened by the fact that the subjects were hospitalized patients. Their being ill and institutionalized left them vulnerable to exploitation.” The stories of men and women like Ebb Cade, Albert Stevens, Eda Charlton, and Simeon Shaw are a reminder of the weighty costs associated with medical and scientific progress.
When the documentation concerning human experimentation came to light in the mid-1990s, one journalist wrote that this information “will force historians to rewrite part of the history of the dawn of the atomic age.” It is important to critically consider the role of human experimentation in the legacy of the Manhattan Project.
In the UK, evidence of blood samples being taken on test subjects and bodies removed for autopsy without the families consent have been highlighted. Susie Boniface's article in the Daily Mirror has highlighted the fact that Parliament were lied to by the MoD regarding blood samples.
The Redfern Inquiry found that 15 ex-servicemen who were or were at some time thought to be veterans of the UK’s nuclear tests and whose organs were or might have been removed at post mortem examination with a view to radiochemical analysis. In all, the AWE’s involvement was confined to giving advice on the likelihood of the individual having been exposed to harmful radiation in the course of the tests.
With all AB and ES documents removed from the National Archives at Kew for a 'security review', is the MoD embarking on yet another campaign of denial. The American government admitted that the experimentation had been undertaken and President Clinton apologised for the experiments and compensated the families. The UK Government gave no apology following the Redfern inquiry. No compensation was paid. The MoD continue to withhold documents from the British public.
The current Government does not even know what happened at the tests, many MP's were not even born. They were not taught the subject in schools and some are not even aware of the significance of the testing program. Instead they rely on advisers in Whitehall to provide the evidence to answer any questions, often the answers are incorrect and the information to support any claim by the Veterans withheld.
I have been told on many occasions that the word 'Experiment' is too strong for what the servicemen undertook as part of the testing program. I disagree, the Veterans and their families are still part of a worldwide experiment. Information supporting the Veterans claims is withheld in the MoD archives. Many of the people who initially protected the information relating to the tests are now deceased, but the secrecy remains. I was convinced after I read a note from the Prime Minister.
The above note from 1955 was written after the prime minister saw the report considering the genetic effects of Nuclear Radiation in 1955 from the tests at The Montebello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga (part of the Woomera Prohibited Area).
"A pity, but we cannot help it"
The UK Government continued to expose the Veterans for a place at the top table as a Nuclear Superpower. The effects were well known from previous tests, but the UK Government continued to expose over 22,000 UK servicemen, sending many to early deaths and condemning their families to generations of health problems and misery.
The US Government issued a censorship document in 1945 to ensure that any doubtful matters we passed for clearance by the US office of censorship representatives.
Shirley Denson's husband Eric flew through the mushroom cloud during Operation Grapple and documents sent to her by the MoD, prove that her husband was exposed.
The most damning of the documents is a report by the Defence Research Policy Committee to the Chiefs of Staff Committee on the 20th May 1953.
This report clearly states
"The army must discover the detailed effects of various types of explosion on equipment, stores and men with and without various types of protection."
I am no radiation expert, I am not a scientist, but the documentary evidence of government cover up and experimentation on the Veterans cannot be ignored.
I wrote to Theresa May on the 20th January and provided her with the evidence regarding the note from the Prime Minister asking her to personally respond. I have not received a response from her or the Cabinet Office.
With the growing evidence which is now emerging, I am not surprised that the MoD has withdrawn the archives at Kew, they know that they are on the verge of having to admit that they did use these servicemen in experiments. They do not want anymore documents to emerge which highlight that the servicemen were used as guinea pigs.
If you add in to the equation, the inhabitants of the lands where these tests took place, the indigenous tribes, the Gilbertese, the Marshallese who were all displaced. The scientists, the servicemen and civilians that performed the various cleanups, the servicemen in the various bases who serviced returning aircraft. The down-winders who were contaminated from the fallout, these tests affected the whole world and will continue to do so for thousands of years.
Our world changed forever when the worldwide Governments decided to test Nuclear Weapons, our climate changed, the population changed and the earth changed. This damage is irreversible.
These areas are still radioactive and restricted, for instance, you can tour the Maralinga test site, but even this tour is restricted due to the radiation. The tour site quotes
"A hilltop vantage provides views over the detonation areas as the tour continues to the several Ground Zero points. (Radioactive fallout levels at these sites has long since dissipated, only deemed contaminated for 25 years following the actual blast, but not so the small restricted area well away from where the tours operate, that will remain off-limits for an estimated 25,000 years!)"
The Runit dome in the Marshal Islands is perilously close to being engulfed by the Pacific Ocean. This report by the Guardian newspaper, highlights the issue.
One veteran recently told me "Once the infrastructure was built, why did we need to stay on the island when the bomb was dropped? Why were we not evacuated from the island as other people were? I can tell you why, because they wanted to see what would happen to us, we were experimented on. I was sprayed with DDT twice a day, my food was sprayed, I drank contaminated water, ate contaminated fish and swam in the contaminated lagoon. We didn't stand a chance."
As Chairman of the BNTVA, I will do everything I can whilst in office to ensure that the Nuclear Veterans are recognised for their service. We need to ensure that the world know about the tests and the consequences on humankind and the planet. The world owe these servicemen a great debt and it is now time to pay back the debt, give them an apology and recognise them for experimenting on them.
Alan Owen FBCS CITP