U.S. ran radiation tests on unsuspecting people

December 08, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Energy Department disclosed yesterday that over a 45-year period the United States conducted 204 previously unreported underground nuclear tests and deliberately exposed at least 18 Americans to dangerous levels of nuclear material.

Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary said she planned to release more information in June about experiments conducted on 18 people in the 1940s to assess effects of plutonium radiation.

Those tests were among an estimated 800 radiation experiments conducted on more than 600 individuals over the years.

While the existence of those experiments has previously been disclosed in a congressional report and other documents, few details were known.

All 18 of the subjects have died, Ms. O'Leary said, adding that laws assuring the privacy of government employees prevented the immediate release of their names and cause of death.

Ms. O'Leary said she was "appalled, shocked and deeply saddened," to learn about the experiments, saying: "It is apparent that informed consent could not have taken place."

In disclosing the 204 secret nuclear tests, Ms. O'Leary acknowledged that 34 of the tests released radiation into the atmosphere. The tests occurred between 1963 and 1990 at the department's Nevada test range. The additional figures bring the total of U.S. nuclear tests to 1,051.

Department disclosures are expected to aid communities surrounding the 17 major nuclear weapons facilities. Those activities appear to be linked to elevated levels of cancers and environmental degradations in Washington, Ohio, South Carolina and Nevada.

In citing an environmental degradation, Ms. O'Leary reiterated a department finding that roughly 750,000 pounds of mercury has

been dumped into a tributary of a stream in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The mercury, which is associated with birth defects and nervous system disorders, was dumped by a plant that produced uranium components for nuclear weapons.

Ms. O'Leary promised further disclosures as she tries to win public confidence in the department.

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