At least six secret tests released radiation at Dugway Proving Ground between 1949 and 1952 in a project to help develop radioactive cluster bombs that could contaminate small areas, a new report says.
Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, released an unclassified version of a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, a research arm of Congress, saying the government secretly dropped radioactive material from airplanes or released it on the ground in a dozen tests in Utah, Tennessee, Washington, Nevada and New Mexico.The tests had been concealed until now, according to the report, except for a 1949 test that spread radiation over a 200-mile stretch of Washington and Oregon. It created public anger when it was disclosed in 1989.
However, in previous years the Deseret News reported it had obtained documents detailing plans to drop radioactive material at Dugway in the 1950s and 1960s, but those documents did not say whether the tests had actually occurred.
Also, the newspaper in 1960 ran stories about plans then to test radioactivity at a special grid at Dugway by running vehicles through 40 million pellets of cobalt under controlled circumstances.
Dugway spokeswoman Melynda Petrie said she was not familiar with any radiological tests at Dugway and needed to research the matter further before she could comment on how the tests were conducted and how safe they were.
The GAO study said the Army Chemical Corps, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Air Force conducted tests at Dugway on Oct. 22 and Nov. 30, 1949, as part of an effort to develop a bomb that could spread radiation around a limited, tightly controlled area.
In those two tests, the government dropped cluster bombs from 15,000 feet that weighed 2,000 pounds and were packed with radioactive material. The first test contaminated 0.6 square miles and the second contaminated another 0.8 square miles, the report said.
As part of the same research, the study said two other tests occurred at Dugway in September 1950, one in November 1951 and one in May 1952 - but investigators found few details about them.
As part of the same radiological bomb research, the report said radiation was emitted at or near ground level at the Oak Ridge, Tenn., office of the old Atomic Energy Commission, twice during 1948.
The report also says the government tested non-radioactive bomb casings by dropping them over the Great Salt Lake between 1949 and 1952.
The radiological tests were in addition to the thousands of open-air trials involving germ and chemical warfare agents at Dugway in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. The Army has said open-air tests since then have used only simulants that it says are safe, although watchdog groups and some scientists have questioned their safety also.
Some of the other testing uncovered by the GAO included tracking one radiation cloud 70 miles downwind over a sparsely populated area in New Mexico from Los Alamos to Watrous. Another was tracked 10 miles, said Glenn, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Also, in four other tests, radiation was put into the air in Nevada so that pilots could chase the cloud of fallout to see how it moved.
"There is no justification for the government to keep this information secret, and there is no justification, except in extreme wartime conditions, for the principle of informed consent to be abandoned," Glenn said.
Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Md., said the disclosures confirmed educated guesses about the extent of government experimentation after the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bombs.Comment on this story
"This is the first solid evidence that there was a systematic radioactive warfare program," he said. "There had been indications that the military considered radiation warfare to be very important after the war, but no indication of thorough and systematic planning like this."
Energy Department spokesman Sam Grizzle said that DOE officials had not had a chance to review the new information but that Secretary Hazel O'Leary believes the public has a right to know about the experiments.
Revealing the long-concealed evidence "is very much in line with her policy of opening this department to the public," he said.