Over the years working on nuclear weapons issues, I’ve always tried to make time to read as much as I can. Sometimes though the reading list you pick for your summer holiday isn’t as pleasant as the usual beach-book. For example, the Plutonium Files by Eileen Welsome.
This book talks about how 73 disabled children were fed oatmeal laced with radioactive isotopes, 829 pregnant women were served “vitamin cocktails” (so they thought) containing radioactive iron. It shares the story of an eighteen-year-old woman who thought she was being treated for a pituitary disorder, but instead was injected with plutonium. These are just some of the secret human radiation experiments that the U.S. government conducted on unsuspecting Americans for decades. And there are more.
This morning I was reminded of this book while I was looking for a list of US nuclear weapons tests conducted inside the US. I just wanted the list of 828+ tests, and their approximate yields. The US Department of Energy has changed its websites (of course, as they always do) and my old bookmarked pages resulted in a bunch of files not found. So, I headed over to the nice and shiny US Department of Energy OpenNet, where eventually I did come across the list.
However, in that search, what was most prominent on the page was the Spotlight on Human Radiation Experiments.
I wish it were a joke.
A page full of documents (with links to more pages with more documents) all about this issue.
Ever since my six year old self was taught to duck and cover I’ve been afraid of radiation. It is odourless, colourless, and I know that it can hurt me in ways that I never want to imagine. I’ve met victims of atomic bombings (and atomic testing). I’ve seen the images of jelly fish babies. I’ve met the women who always wanted to be mothers and instead gave birth to mutated stillborns, thankful they’d never taken breath.
All I wanted was a list of the nuclear weapons testing, instead I found information that there were secret testing of radiation on convicts in Washington state. And that there was a specific testicular irradiation project, and that inmates were exposed specifically to study the impact of radiation on reproduction, and more.
Now, reading about human radiation experiments by an investigative journalist like Eileen Welsome is one thing (and I highly recommend her book), but seeing the scans of the now declassified filed directly… it was enough to cast a dark and stormy shadow over what is otherwise a bright and beautiful July day. I will never understand the horrors that humanity can bring upon itself, and today’s accidental reading has simply served to redouble my efforts to make sure the weapons that would leave this type of human scarring are finally made illegal. No more experimentation needed to know they should be outlawed and eliminated.