The Sordid History of Radiation

Special syringe developed to inject radioactive materials in subjects.

Does anybody out there feel like getting information about radiation is liking trying to get the actual price of a car from a used car salesman? Well, you’re not alone. There’s a big reason for that.

Information and research about radiation, especially in the United States, has a very long history of being suppressed. So to give a clearer understanding of radiation and how the information has mutated over the years, bad pun I know, I’m going to break it up into 4 separate time periods. But first, here is a quick technical factoid to learn before the history relevance details.

The types of radiation are Alpha, Beta, and Gamma rays of which I include X-Rays. Neutron radiation will not be discussed in this post for the simple reason that it would be a rare circumstance that you’re going to encounter it… well unless you work making plutonium pits for nuclear bombs. And in that case, learning stuff from this post probably should be low in your life’s priority list.

These three types of radiation are all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, just like visible light, but occur in the higher frequency of the spectrum.

See the portion of the spectrum where it’s printed visible, at the half way point? The color bar below shows the visible colors in that tiny narrow band that consists of all we can see. Gamma rays are way up there in frequency at the end of the band on the right side of the picture.

 

 

The different types also have different abilities to penetrate materials. Alpha radiation is pretty weak, being stopped by a piece of paper, but gamma particles can go right through just about anything.

1917 – 1941

From 1917 to 1926, U.S. Radium Corporation hired women to paint radium on the dials of commercial and military equipment so the dials could be seen easily at night because of the glowing numbers. In order to have a fine point on the paintbrush, the women would wet the brush with their mouth. After some time, all the women developed anemia and necrosis of the jaw bone. The company would send the girls to a network of  doctors and dentists that had secret agreements with US Radium and the military not to release their examination data.  If any of the afflicted girls threatened to go public, the hired medical professionals would claim the women suffered from syphilis to smear their reputations and discredit them.

The unit Roentgen  is defined as the amount of radiation required to liberate positive and negative charges of one electrostatic unit of charge in a cubic centimeter of dry air at standard temperature and pressure. The unit Rad is loosely defined as the amount to cause destruction of cells. A vague definition at best.

1942 -1955

In 1950, Truman approved the testing of atomic bombs in Nevada with the first exploded in 1951. Several of the tests involved soldiers training in trenches and maneuvers into the blast area right afterward. Although top secret reports indicated the hazardous conditions for the troops, the tests continued for a decade. Later these soldiers would be known as “The Atomic Veterans.”

During the Cold War, scientific findings on health effects of nuclear fallout that contradicted the official narrative were typically censored. Scientists were not only punished for their work, they were also blacklisted. One example of this was American anthropologist Earle Reynolds whose work for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission was censored in 1953 by the US government. His research showed that Japanese children who were exposed to fallout were not only smaller than their counterparts, but had less resistance to disease in general and were more susceptible to cancer, especially leukemia.

1955 – 1962

As testing in the Pacific Proving Grounds and Nevada continued, the bomb yields grew higher and higher. In Nevada, tests were timed to coincide with weather patterns to keep the fallout going over Utah with small towns such as St. George and Cedar City, Utah. People in those smaller, less populated towns were viewed as more expendable than residents of the larger metropolises of California and Las Vegas.

Radiation from the fallout, publicly denied or effects minimized, was becoming harder and harder to keep quiet. One particular incident, a bomb test codenamed “Castle Bravo”, runs away in expected yield and irradiates a Japanese fishing vessel, Fukuryu Maru, that was 40 miles away. In order to minimize the damage, the AEC claims that it was a “Red Spy Outfit” commanded by a Soviet agent intentionally exposing both the ship’s crew and their tuna fish catch in order to embarrass the USA and gain intelligence on the test. All of the ship’s crew got sick and were sequestered to prevent information becoming public. The ship’s radio operator died after 5 months, and the US compensated the widow and her children 2500 dollars. The others received nothing.

Meanwhile, in order to collect more data for the Atomic Energy Commission, top secret involuntary human radiation experiments were approved in several locations. At the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Eugene Saenger is awarded contracts for involuntary human studies of Total Body Irradiation (TBI) starting in 1960. With a total of 90 patients, mostly black and poor, TBI treatments, some with more than 200 RADS, were given- totally in secret. Dr. Saenger was later to be known as “The American Mengele.”

Across the country other Universities and medical centers were also involved in collecting data from secret TBI treatments.

A center in Houston, Tx with 263 patients, with experiments sponsored by the Air Force from 1951 to 1956

Baylor University College of Medicine study from 1952 to 1964 involving 112 patients.

The Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer research study from 1954 to 1964 involving 34 patients.

Vanderbilt University study involving 830 women to find out if radiation crossed the placental barrier, were giving radioactive iron in “cocktails” to drink while undergoing medical care.

The unit Rad is redefined as amount of energy to be absorbed in 1 gram of matter. Also the unit REM or Roentgen Equivalent Man is defined to indicate more accurately the dosage to biological tissue. Unfortunately, even today the biological model for the Equivalent Man does not consider pregnant women, children and the elderly.

1962 – 1979

As information about the dispersion of Strontium-90 became available, a concentrated effort was started to collect data from around the world obtained from the bones of infants and children. The AEC initiated program, “Operation Sunshine”, would basically grave-rob recently deceased from around the world. The collection of bodies were secretly collected from nations all over the world. Greenland… Australia… China…. and Strontium-90 was found in all of them. The world had become one giant “downwinder” by the early 1960’s.

The Europeans came up with another different system developed by the organization System International in 1975. Their unit that is similar to the RAD is the unit Gray, which is a unit for  radiation that is absorbed into ANY material. The unit sievert specifically measures absorbed radiation which is absorbed by a person.  Sievert is the unit that you will hear used for the Japan nuclear accident. Radiation dosage will also be mentioned as millisievert, 1/1000th of a sievert or microsievert, 1/1,000,000th of a sievert.

1979 – present

The consequences of this censored history was examined in 1994 by the US Advisory Commission on Human Radiation Experimentation, which concluded that the radiation health literature of the Cold War years was a heavily sanitized and scripted version meant to reassure and pacify public protests while achieving military and economic agendas.

In 1994, Secretary of Energy, Hazeal O’Leary announces the information about the Human Radiation experiments right before a Albuquerque investigative reporter publishes a story detailing the circumstances and identities of patients in the program. Later a book is written by Eileen Welsome, The Plutonium Files, that details the whole program.

I have often seen “facts” published about items such as… “you will get the same amount of radiation flying cross country in a plane” or something similar. That’s where the information given is disingenuous. Technically, it’s true but the information conveyed is false.

To understand why just think of something simple, like a flashlight. You have the light that the flashlight produces (we will call that the radiation) and then you have the flashlight itself (the emitter). Now think of the difference of that stronger flashlight shining on you as you pass by as opposed to INGESTING the flashlight, which continues to shine for years afterword. Can you understand why the weaker flashlight would be magnitudes more deadly? Especially if the flashlight is just fractions of an inch away from cells that it will affect?

That ingestion of radioactive particles are what’s particularly damaging to the human body because the body USES the particle as a nutrient. The body thinks that Iodine-131 is normal Iodine and stores it away in the Thyroid gland. You may have heard of pills given out to people to prevent the radiation exposure. This is a trick to load up the thyroid with normal iodine and preventing any need for the body to store anymore for awhile. So it doesn’t store the radioactive Iodine-131 material. Another particle, Cesium-137, fools the body into thinking that it’s potassium. Unfortunately the same trick of fooling the body cannot be done because the amount of potassium needed would stop the heart. Strontium-90 fools the body into thinking that it’s calcium, so it goes into bone marrow. This is particularly bad with growing children.

Today..

With the current crisis in Japan, there are accusations of US civilians “over-reacting” to the radiation leak by nuclear industry officials. The alarmed civilians are just not trusting what the government has to say about the dangers and how safe the situation is claimed to be.

In my opinion, looking over the history of the Government and Radiation information, the population has EARNED a right to be distrustful.

How does that saying go… “Fool me once, shame on you. But fool me twice…”


Department of Energy Radiation Guidelines (click on picture)

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About Krell

I used to have superpowers… but a therapist took them away.
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9 Responses to The Sordid History of Radiation

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Somehow you missed all the Utah downwinders stuff that ended in producing the Radiation Compensation Act.

    It’s sordid, partly because of what was not known. But not all of the victims were patsies.

  2. Krell says:

    In the 1955 – 1962 section I mention Utah downwinders at St.George and Cedar City, Utah.
    True, not all victims were patsies but a lot of them didn’t have a choice or even aware of the dangers. One that comes to mind is the sheep ranchers that had most of their livestock destroyed because of radiation and the AEC testified in court under oath that the sheep died because of “sheep anemia”.

  3. scaredstiff says:

    I think all Governments lie their ass off to the people. When shit goes wrong they then spend all their time trying to cover it up. Yes, I’m cynical, but information like this just makes my case. Truly, if our Government said it was a nice day, I’d look behind me to see what was going to happen next. This was scandalous and a American shame.
    I expect nothing more or less.
    Thanks Krell, I liked this post very much.

  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Is one of my comments locked in moderaton?

    • Krell says:

      Ed.. no comment in moderation. In fact, as administrator I set it up to bypass moderation so there isn’t even moderation in the loop.

  5. Ed Darrell says:

    The sheep case, Bullock vs. U.S., is one of the cases I had in mind. It was a key to reopening the entire affair in 1977. The Bullock family never gave up. Their lawyers never gave up. The federal judge who originally heard the case came out of retirement to work to be sure the ranchers got justice — possible 25 years later only because of the “fraud upon the court” committed by federal lawyers.

    And though the case came to an unfortunate end on appeal, the Bullock family collected under the Radiation Compensation Act, as did some of the miners and other civilians injured by the entire nuclear industry, mining, refining and bomb tests.

    The legislative process roped in results from Japanese research into victims of the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, got the studies translated and refined, processed through the National Research Council and now a part of the U.S. criteria documents on radiation exposure.

    Government cover-up is a part of the story, a nasty part. Good citizenship and dogged work by citizens in official positions, as victims, as lawyers and legislators, are also big parts of the story. Let’s not forget them.

    • Krell says:

      I remember that incident from a book I read titled “The Day We Bombed Utah” way back when. What sticks in my mind was the lawyer that worked for the case and the Judge that was so mad after finding out about the deception by AEC witnesses that he came out of retirement like you mentioned. I believe it also mentions about one of the ranchers, after they lost on appeal, when home and had a fatal heart attack.

      I visited your site and saw that you have a lot of interesting posts about a wide variety of subjects. Excellent site with attention to history detail. I’m sort of a history buff myself with a particular interest in Cold War history. Lots of books, items, documents, and various odd items to gaze upon.

  6. Beach says:

    Lies I tell you! Ann Coulter was on O’Reilly the other day and is sure that radiation is healthy. I’d just wish she would fly over to Japan and hang out REAL close to the cracked containment vessels and empty storage pools to prove her point.

  7. Gwendolyn H. Barry says:

    What an excellent education~! Including the comments by Ed. Thank you David… much valued info.

    Beach… I actually listened to that kittycat on O’Reilly…. thing is, it really made her look extra stupid… her hesitations, though quick, for Coulter were telling that she was, as the host she was kiveching with, pulls ‘documented information’ out of her arse!

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