Stafford Warren had stuck by Leslie Groves through 1945 and most of 1946. But by then the novelty of being in the Army had worn off, and he longed to return to civilian life. After he had recovered from Operation Crossroads, he hit the lecture circuit and began warning select audiences about the dangers of the atomic bomb. Having witnessed Trinity, the devastation in j.a.pan, and the ma.s.sive contamination from the Pacific tests, Warren seemed to have developeda"at least temporarilya"a dread of nuclear weapons. Some of his more candid speeches were reserved for scientists and military personnel with security clearances. But other talks were given to carefully selected groups of nonmilitary people: medical students at Ma.s.sachusetts General Hospitala"ano reportersa; the Rochester Medical Societya"astudents and MDsa"no reportersa; the Chatterbox Cluba"aWomenas Semi-professional Cluba"no reporters.a1 Warren asked General Groves for permission to tell some of the lay groups about the hazards of plutonium, noting that when the medical research was decla.s.sified it would show that plutonium ais probably the most toxic metal known, and that extremely small amounts deposited in the marrow will eventually cause progressive anemia and death years later.a2 He continued, aI believe a frank statement of this sort should be made now to professional and intelligent lay groups as part of the general discussion on the effect of the bomb as a whole. Sooner or later one of your favorite columnists will focus attention on product [plutonium] alone and the effect on public relations will be difficult to combat. Merged with the rest, it does not appear so startling.a During a cla.s.sified speech given in aBuilding Xa on a Sunday afternoon in October 1946, Warren sketched the apocalypse he feared would come. aSoon the number of bombs which will have been let off will have made available so much radioactivity that it will seriously damage our food supplies and make serious changes in our world economy.3 This is not a figment of the imagination at all.a To the security-cleared audience, he added the following warning: You need only to absorb a few micrograms of plutonium and other long-life fission materials, and then know that you are going to develop a progressive anemia or a tumor in from 5 to 15 years.4 This is an insidious hazard and an insidious lethal effect hard to guard against. It has a tremendous morale-destroying effect. Would you want to live in an area which was contaminated with something that was all around you which you couldnat eliminate and which would get on your clothes, in your house, in the water, in the milk, and all the food?
Warrenas dire p.r.o.nouncements upset many scientists at the time and have continued to rankle researchers down to the present day who feel the hazards of plutonium have been exaggerated. One person who was particularly upset when the remarks were first made was Los Alamos chemist Don Mastick. In a letter to Louis Hempelmann, Mastick wrote: It has recently come to my attention that Dr. Stafford Warren has made a very serious and deeply implicated statement; namely, that the long lived component of the atomic bomb (Pu, 24,000 year) is of such a nature, physiologically speaking, that all life on this planet, as we know it, would probably be extinguished by the detonation of 1,000 (one thousand) Nagasaki type atomic bombs.5 Thus, we have only 995 bombs to go by this reasoning a Due to the hidden implications in such a statement, I would like some information on this matter, purely for personal consumption.
Hempelmann dismissed Warrenas comments, saying that he was surprised that Mastick gave any serious consideration to what the colonel said. aYou know Staff better than that.6 I think that the plutonium from the thousand bombs scattered universally over the earth would do us all good (stimulates the spermatocytesa"not for publication),a he wrote. aPlutonium, next to alcohol is probably one of the better things in life. We are using it for toothpowder out here.a After getting permission from General Groves, Stafford Warren mustered out of uniform on November 3, 1946. He had spent three years and two days in the Army.7 Homesick for his native state of California, Warren accepted a job as the first dean of the still-to-be-built medical school at the University of California at Los Angeles.
At UCLA, Warren maintained close ties to the Atomic Energy Commission, using his wartime connections to bring lucrative AEC contracts and researchers to the university. In fact, Warren disclosed in his oral history, all of the start-up medical school faculty that he hired were funded by the AEC. He also established a cla.s.sified Atomic Energy Project at UCLA modeled after Rochesteras Manhattan Annex.8 One of the first tasks undertaken by the UCLA group was an investigation of how the radioactive fission products at Trinity were moving into the food chain, a study that AEC attorneys were initially reluctant to fund. Recalled Warren, aThey were afraid we might find something.9 And I said, aWell, youave got to look, because if there is something, youad better find it and prevent further things, or pay off, and face it before there is some scandal.a a UCLA scientists also did yearly fallout studies at the Nevada Test Site and examined people who claimed to have been injured by the radioactive debris. How committed Warren was to the Atomic Energy Project is unclear. Years later one AEC official doing a field review noted bitterly the projectas aextremely low morale.a Warren, he was told, had used the Atomic Energy Project as a place to employ his staff until the medical center was built.10 aThose that are left are the unwanted leftovers.a Hymer Friedell, Warrenas second in command, also returned to academic life in 1946. He, too, maintained close ties with both civilian and military officials involved in atomic energy issues. He partic.i.p.ated in some of the secret debates that occurred in the late 1940s over whether healthy prisoners should be used in total-body irradiation experiments and served on a joint military-civilian panel that oversaw biomedical research at the bomb tests. In Cleveland, at what is today known as Case Western Reserve University, Friedell established another large program called the Atomic Energy Medical Research Project. Under an AEC contract, he brought together a team of researchers to study the toxic effects of internally deposited radioisotopes and their possible applications in medicine.11 Every once in a while he would get a letter or a phone call from someone interested in Ebb Cade, the Oak Ridge patient injected with plutonium.
With both Stafford Warren and Hymer Friedell gone, General Groves was forced to appoint an interim director of the Manhattan Projectas Medical Section for the few remaining months of its existence. He chose James c.o.o.ney, a career Army officer and radiologist who had been a.s.signed to his staff in February of 1946. c.o.o.neyas first experience with the atomic bomb had occurred at Crossroads, where he served as one of Stafford Warrenas a.s.sistants. Warren told an interviewer years later that c.o.o.ney would take off about 4:00 P.M. every afternoon for the beach club. aHe wasnat about to stay up all night to see if anything was going to happen.a12 Ironically enough, James c.o.o.ney, a stout, middle-aged man from Iowa, would go on to become one of the most powerful military leaders in the Cold War testing program.
In the ensuing years, c.o.o.ney blamed Stafford Warren for much of the public hysteria about nuclear weapons. He believed Warren awas so conservative he was a disaster,a recalled Herbert Scoville, an employee in the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project and later the Central Intelligence Agency.13 c.o.o.neyas son, James P. c.o.o.ney Jr., said his father believed one of the biggest fear mongerers was David Bradley, the physician who wrote the 1948 book about Operations Crossroads. aHe was tremendously upset about the misinformation,a the son recalled.14 Robert Stone returned to San Francisco, where he conducted additional human experiments with both radioisotopes and X rays. As irascible as ever, Stone locked horns with Shields Warren, the new director of the AECas Division of Biology and Medicine, over an experiment in which Stone was administering dangerously large amounts of radio-phosphorous to arthritis patients. Stone would also become a leading advocate of a controversial proposal put forth by a civilian-military group to perform total-body irradiation experiments on healthy prisoners. Lined up behind him would be many of his old allies from the Manhattan Project and the admirals and generals of the Army, Navy, and Air Force who were preparing to wage the next war on a nuclear battlefield.
The nuclear battlefield, an unthinkable Armageddon that Albert Einstein predicted would return civilization to the Stone Age, was uppermost on the minds of civilian and military war planners after j.a.pan surrendered. How would the armed forces wage such a war? How could they defend against it? One of the scientists they turned to for advice was Joseph Hamilton, who had acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of how radioactive materials unleashed in bombs behaved in the human body. Hamilton maintained close links with the AEC and the military, frequently flying back and forth to meetings in Washington, D.C. He had become, according to his protg, Patricia Durbin, a awalker in the corridors of power.a15 Hamiltonas old dream, radioactive warfare, had been revitalized by Shot Baker, the spectacular underwater atomic bomb detonated at Operation Crossroads. On New Yearas Eve of 1946, the day before the Manhattan Projectas sprawling factories and laboratories were transferred to the AEC, Hamilton wrote a long memo to Colonel Kenneth Nichols, who directed the daily operations of the Manhattan Engineer District, describing how radioactive materials could be used to destroy cities, poison food supplies, and render uninhabitable thousands of square miles. Trivial amounts of fission products absorbed in the body could irradiate the bone marrow and produce alethal effects,a he wrote. Aerosols of radioactive materials mixed with smokes could be fatal when breathed into the lungs. aOne of the princ.i.p.al strategic uses of fission products will probably be against the civilian population of large cities,a he continued.16 aIt can be well imagined the degree of consternation, as well as fear and apprehension, that such an agent would produce upon a large urban population after its initial use.a In his New Yearas Eve memo, Hamilton advised that a full-scale investigation of rad warfare (RW) be launched by the armed services in an isolated region. His suggestion was taken seriously and implemented by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. As an added bonus, Hamilton himself was made chairman of a panel charged with overseeing the safety for the RW experiments. On at least one occasion he flew in a plane tracking the radioactive cloud.17 According to the Clinton Advisory Committee, sixty-five tests were conducted at Dugway between 1949 and 1952 and more than 13,000 curies of radioactive tantalum were released into the atmosphere.18 The program was kept secret out of fear that the rad warfare program might cause apublic anxiety,a aundue public apprehension,a and even apublic hysteria,a the committee reported. The program remained under wraps until 1974 and was largely unknown by the public until 1993. Funding for the RW program was cut in 1953, just as the Chemical Corps was proposing a huge expansion in its testing program. Its demise was probably due to budget cuts as well as practical questions about its military effectiveness, the presidential panel speculated.
Wright Langham was to make Los Alamos his base of operations for the rest of his life, becoming a familiar figure at the scene of some of the worldas most hair-raising nuclear accidents. In 1966 he flew to Europe when four thermonuclear weapons were dropped near Palomares, Spain, during a midair refueling collision over the Mediterranean Sea. Two of the weapons were found intact. The other two underwent nonnuclear explosions, which resulted in the release of some fissionable fuel and some burning. Langham was also sent to Greenland in 1968 when a B-52 bomber from the U.S. Strategic Air Command that was carrying four unarmed nuclear weapons crashed seven miles west of Thule Air Force Base. The explosives in the unarmed weapons detonated, and considerable plutonium spewed over the ice.
Louis Hempelmann left Los Alamos briefly in 1946 to return to Washington University in St. Louis, but was persuaded by lab director Norris Bradbury to come back for a couple more years. With few paved streets, no sidewalks, and only a limited number of telephones, living conditions were still primitive on the mesa. Residents shopped at the post exchange and purchased other items through the mail. A series of calamities, including a water shortage, had driven all but the heartiest out of town. Robert Bacher, the unflappable scientist whom Oppenheimer confided in during the dark and uncertain days of the bomb project, later told Congress, aThe technical developments during 1946 had slowed not to a stop but were so slow the motion was hard to detect.a19 Hempelmann and fellow physician James Nolan were almost overwhelmed by the paperwork and physical exams a.s.sociated with processing civilian and military personnel who were leaving the site. Although they werenat always successful, the doctors tried to obtain blood and urine samples from departing workers to protect the project from possible lawsuits. Nolan wrote: With the lifting of security and the lack of pressure afforded by the war, employees at this laboratory now have many qualms about special hazards.20 It has been necessary for the protection of the contractor and for the morale of the worker to do things which are not absolutely necessary for the protection of workersa health. This office has attempted to make more of a ashow.a Nurses have been employed in the first aid rooms of outlying sites rather than G.I. first aid men.
The Los Alamos doctors also established a amilk routea to obtain urine specimens from the homes of recalcitrant employees who worked with polonium, a highly radioactive material, and consciously attempted to make safety procedures part of everyday life.21 Just when the two physicians thought they were bringing the achaosa under control, another devastating criticality accident occurred on May 21, 1946. Because the accident occurred on the eve of Operation Crossroads and at a time when sensitive negotiations were occurring over the domestic and international control of the bomb, many details of the incident remained unknown to the general public for decades.
Louis Slotin, a young Canadian-born scientist and a close friend of Harry Daghlian, had his pa.s.sport ready and his bags packed for Crossroads when he decided to show his colleagues how to perform an experiment know ominously among physicists as atickling the dragonas tail.a On that fateful day in May, Slotin and a number of other scientists gathered around a table at a remote laboratory in Pajarito Canyon. One of the men standing nearest to Slotin was Alvin Graves, a member of the so-called Chicago suicide squad who had stood on a platform above Fermias pile, ready to halt the chain reaction with neutron-absorbing cadmium.
Slotin was an intense-looking young man who had the reputation of being a daredevil.22 He had served in the Spanish Civil War as an antiaircraft gunner and had joined the Royal Air Force when World War II broke out. When authorities discovered he was nearsighted, he was forced to resign. On his way home to Winnipeg, Canada, he visited with a colleague in Chicago who encouraged him to join the Met Lab. Eventually Slotin transferred to Los Alamos, where he became the resident expert at the atickling the dragonas taila test, which was done to determine the exact amount of fissionable material needed to ignite a chain reaction. Enrico Fermi believed the test was so dangerous that he had warned Slotin, aKeep doing that experiment that way and youall be dead within a year.a23 Slotin shrugged off Fermias words of caution; he had already performed the test successfully some forty times before.
Wearing a loose, open shirt and his trousers tucked into cowboy boots, Slotin stood in the middle of a large, sun-filled room and slowly lowered the upper half of a hollow beryllium hemisphere around a ma.s.s of fissionable material that was resting in a similar lower hemisphere.2425 He held the upper sphere in his left hand with his thumb and fingers inserted in the plug hole at the top. In the other hand he held a screwdriver, which he used to keep the two sh.e.l.ls apart. Suddenly the screwdriver slipped and the telltale blue halo appeared. aYou can guess the rest,a Norris Bradbury confided to several colleagues two days later.26 aThe hemisphere fell, there was the familiar blue glow and feeling of heat in his hands.a Slotin knocked the two spheres apart and then made for the exit. Four other scientists, a technician, an engineer, and one guard who also were in the room raced out the door. Ten minutes later Slotin gathered the group around him and drew a sketch of where everyone was standing in order to help estimate how much radiation each had received.
Los Alamos scientists believed Slotin received a dose of about 800 roentgens, more than twice the lethal dose.27 Alvin Graves received an estimated 100 roentgens; junior scientist Allan Kline, 60 roentgens; Dwight Young, a technician, 50 roentgens; Patrick Cleary, a security guard, 30 roentgens; junior scientist Marion Cieslicki, 12 roentgens; scientist Raemer Schreiber, 8 roentgens; and Theodore Perlman, an engineer, 6 roentgens.
Alvin Graves was standing about a foot behind Slotin and was shielded from some of the radiation by Slotinas body. After Harry Daghlian was killed, Slotin and other scientists had kicked around the question of whether it was better to run away or knock apart the a.s.sembly once a chain reaction had begun. They concluded it was better to stop the reaction. aThis is not because there was any possibility of an explosion,a Graves once explained.28 aIt is because one cannot run fast enough to decrease the radiation exposure as much as it would increase from the reaction itself. It is very much to his [Slotinas] credit that he had the presence of mind to remember this conclusion at such a moment. It is unquestionably true that I and perhaps others of those present owe our lives to his action.a Louis Hempelmann was in charge of the stricken scientists when they arrived at the hospital. For the third time, the doctors would have a chance to observe what would happen to a healthy person exposed to radiation from an atomic weapon without the confounding effects of blast or burn.
Slotin knew he was dying but maintained a cheerful demeanor even as his blood counts dropped, his body began to swell with fluid, and giant blisters appeared on his hands. aWhen we were alone together in a hospital room,a Graves wrote, ahe said, aAl, I am sorry I got you into this.29 I am afraid I have less than a fifty-fifty chance of living. I hope you have better than that.a Slotinas decline mimicked the course followed by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims. A tube placed in his throat soon became painfully irritating because of the ulcers that developed on his tongue and the back of his mouth. He developed uncontrollable diarrhea, and his hands became gangrenous after the swelling had shut off the blood supply. Morphine was his only relief. aNothing could be done to stop the steady progress of total disintegration of body functions,a J. Garrot Allen, one of the treating physicians, later wrote.30 On May 30, nine days after the accident, Slotin died. Philip Morrison, the scientist who had testified so eloquently on Capitol Hill about the apenetratinga effects of radiation, helped pack up Slotinas belongings and return them to his parents. Among his possessions were a pair of opera gla.s.ses and three mounted gla.s.s containers filled with Trinity sand.31 Several of the other scientists who had been in the room also grew sick. Alvin Graves suffered from nausea and intermittent vomiting while he was hospitalized.32 He developed a fever on the fifth day, a rash on the ninth. He was discharged two weeks later but was so weak that he had to remain in bed for sixteen hours a day. Eventually the hair on his head and his beard began to fall out and his sperm disappeared altogether. Eventually he regained his strength, returned to work, and fathered healthy children.
Louis Hempelmann warned Graves to avoid further exposure in the years that followed, but Graves ignored his advice and waded more deeply into the world of atomic weapons. In 1948 he was named the leader of the Los Alamos weapons testing division and was the man considered by many to be the most influential scientist in the atmospheric testing program. Having survived his own exposure, Graves came to believe fallout worries were aconcocted in the minds of weak malingerersa and recommended that radiation exposures be compared to on-the-job accidents.33 A dose of fifteen roentgens, for example, could be the equivalent of a acut finger not requiring st.i.tches,a he suggested.34 aSuch a guide would not only be useful for operational decisions but would be extremely useful for public relations purposes.a But the radiation damage Graves received was not a figment of his imagination; he died about twelve years after the accident at the age of fifty-four from medical complications caused by the exposure.
Allan Kline, who was standing about four feet from the a.s.sembly, was also nauseous when he was admitted to the hospital.35 Like Alvin Graves, he, too, experienced a marked weakness when he was sent home. The hair on his head and eyebrows fell out, his eyes watered continually, and he complained of an inability to concentrate for more than a few moments at a time.
Klineas life took a radically different turn from Gravesas.36 He left Los Alamos soon after the accident and returned to Chicago. According to a New York Times article, Kline entered Billings Hospital in December of 1946 for a battery of tests. Convinced he was being used as a guinea pig, though, he stormed out of the hospital and soon became embroiled in a dispute with Los Alamos over compensation and access to his medical records. Doc.u.ments obtained from Los Alamos under the California Public Records Act show that his physician was J. J. Nickson, one of the doctors involved in the Met Labas TBI experiments and the Chicago plutonium injections.37 An attorney representing Kline charged in a 1949 letter to Brien McMahon, who by then was chairman of the new Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, that Kline had received aunusually shabby treatmenta from the Manhattan Project, the AEC, and the University of California, which manages Los Alamos.38 aMr. Kline was refused medical care and information at a time when he was dangerously ill from radiation and was emitting enough radiation from his body to cause a Geiger counter to react with some force,a the lawyer wrote. aThis refusal of treatment, dropping him from the payroll with little reserve funds about 2,000 miles from his home, in an extremely weakened radioactive and dangerous condition, and the subsequent indifference to his existence and well being const.i.tute a very tarnished chapter in the history of the development of the atom.a In an attachment, Allan Kline described in detail the physical ailments he had suffered. The neutrons had made many molecules in his body radioactive; his teeth were so hot that a metal shield had to be placed over them to protect delicate mouth tissues; his skin became so sensitive to the sunas ultraviolet rays that it swelled perceptively; he was completely sterile; he required frequent naps or sleep totaling up to twelve to fifteen hours a day; and he was unable to walk up a short flight of stairs without becoming completely exhausted. Worst of all, Kline was not even allowed to see his own medical reports. As a consequence, he began seeing private physicians. Ironically, those doctors were not informed of the origins of Klineas physical complaints because of secrecy rules. He wrote: I was actually used as a guinea pig during this whole period as no medication or treatment was given me for my recovery, nor was any advised.39 All any of the physicians did was to check my physical condition and subject me to very long, uncomfortable tests and the results of these tests then became the property of the U.S. Government, and I was not given access to them. This condition still exists. This amounted to a denial of medical care.
Records that were not decla.s.sified until the mid-1990s show that Kline was being used as a guinea pig in other ways. Louis Hempelmann carefully collected the data from Klineas exposure and the other healthy men injured in the criticality accidents and used it in later years when military and civilian officials in Washington were trying to predict what would happen to soldiers on an atomic battlefield.40 Kline, who is still alive and living in California, spoke in general terms about the accident, but did not answer specific questions about his health or legal issues related to his case. He is a cla.s.sic example of what President Clintonas Advisory Committee came to refer to as an aexperiment of opportunity.a That is, he was not the subject of an experiment per se, but his exposure provided scientists with a unique opportunity to collect data.
Louis Hempelmann remained at Los Alamos until 1948, when he joined the University of Rochester medical school, where he was to remain for the rest of his career. Like the other Manhattan Project doctors, Hempelmann maintained his close ties with the AEC. He was always one of the first experts called upon whenever someone was injured by radiation.
THE AEC AND THE POLITICS OF SECRECY.
At the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1947, the wartime empire belonging to the Armyas Manhattan Engineer District was officially transferred to the new, civilian-run Atomic Energy Commission, which was headquartered in Washington, D.C. The complex was scattered over thirteen states and included more than 2,000 military personnel, 4,000 government employees, and 38,000 employees of contractors.1 On December 24, six days before the transfer, U.S. Army Col. Kenneth Nichols, who directed the daily operations of the Manhattan Project from a rambling administration building in Oak Ridge known as the castle, sent the following memo to the Manhattan Districtas representative in Berkeley: The first paragraph of this report indicates that certain radioactive substances are being prepared for intravenous administration to human subjects as part of the work of the contract.a2 It is felt that such work does not come under the scope of the Manhattan District Program and should not be made a part of its research plan. It is therefore deemed advisable by this office not only to recommend against work on human subjects but also to deny authority for such work under the terms of the Manhattan contract. You will take immediate action to stop this work under this contract, and report to this office upon compliance.
The stop-order apparently was triggered by a progress report written by Joseph Hamilton and sent to Oak Ridge a month earlier. In his usual dry language, Hamilton had advised his superiors that asuitable solutionsa of uranium, americium, and plutonium were being prepared for aintravenous administration to human subjects.a3 He had sent many similar reports to the Manhattan Project, and there was nothing remarkable about his statements. But suddenly, the bomb builders found that the research was unacceptable. The abrupt policy change is one of the most inexplicable events surrounding the plutonium injections. Were Colonel Nichols and General Groves, who were about to lose control of their empire, trying to clean up the paper trail so it would appear as if they hadnat known about or supported the human experiments? Was Nichols objecting to the ethical implications? Did he feel that the injections did not fall within the wartime contract between the Rad Lab and the Manhattan District? Or could there have been other reasons for the stop order?
Records that have surfaced so far donat fully explain what was going on, but at least one doc.u.ment suggests that Nichols, who had been appointed by Groves to serve as a liaison to the AEC, may have felt that the decision to continue such studies should be made by the Manhattan Projectas civilian successor. In fact, a memo sent to Berkeley on January 8, 1947, indicates that AEC officials did want to review the human studies: aUntil the Atomic Energy Commission is able to consider sponsoring this type of experimentation, authorization cannot be given for the use of radioactive materials in human subjects under this contract.a4 Other events going on in the world might have been making General Groves and Colonel Nichols jittery. Throughout the summer and fall of 1946, American prosecutors were preparing for a historic trial in Nuremberg, Germany. In December of that year, twenty-three medical doctors, including Hitleras personal physician, went on trial for a.s.sorted crimes involving murder and torture performed in the name of medical science. Even before the trial began, the American Medical a.s.sociation (AMA) went on record with guidelines for ethical human experiments. The three rules published by the AMA required the voluntary and understanding consent of the subject, prior animal experimentation, and appropriate medical supervision.
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An editorial writer for the Journal of the American Medical a.s.sociation pointed out that the guiding principle behind ethical human experiments was the voluntary consent of the subject. aIn the American army,a he wrote, athe tradition is well established that human beings, even under military conditions, are not ordered to submit to procedures that violate the sanct.i.ty of their own persons.a5 Alluding to the medical experiments conducted in n.a.z.i Germanyas concentration camps, the editorial writer pointed out that the medical profession in the United States would rally behind any enlisted officer who refused to conduct an unethical human experiment, even if ordered to do so by the ahighest political leaders.a Itas likely that some Manhattan Project officials saw the editorial. One AEC official, writing years later, noted that as early as 1946, adoubts were expressed concerning the ethics of the [plutonium] study.6 At one time, consideration was given to referring the matter to the A.M.A. ethics committee but this was not done.a But Stafford Warren, who was just getting settled in at his new job at UCLA, had no ethical qualms, at least initially, about the radioisotope injections and wanted to continue them. Warren chaired an interim committee that provided advice to the AEC on the future course of its research. Not surprisingly, much of the proposed research was slated for the doctors who had done the wartime work, including Stafford Warren himself. aIt is the opinion of this Committee,a Warren wrote on January 30, 1947, athat in the further study of health hazards and of the utilization of fissionable and radioactive, and other materials, final investigations by clinical testing of these materials will be necessary under the proper and usual safeguards.a7 Always conscious of litigation, Warren suggested that the AECas legal department determine what the commissionas afinancial and legala obligations were when aclinical testinga was done. Warren didnat explain what he meant by aclinical testing,a but presumably he was referring to the kind of studies being done by Joseph Hamilton, Robert Stone, and scientists at Rochesteras Manhattan Annex.
While bureaucrats within the Atomic Energy Commission were putting together new rules for future human experiments and trying to bury the evidence of old ones, Shields Warren, who had been part of the first Navy inspection team to go to j.a.pan shortly after the bombings, returned to that country for another look. His mission this time was to help set up a study of the surviving bombing victims and their descendants. j.a.pan was rebuilding itself when Warren arrived in the spring of 1947. Freshly cut lumber was being brought into the cities. New buildings were going up, their sides covered with corrugated iron or flattened tin cans. The roads had been greatly improved. aPeople more alert, many smiling, look fat and well-fed.1 Striking change,a he wrote.
Warren worked with a acompulsive zeal,a a colleague recalled, snacking on acranberries in any form and crackers.a2 He visited hospitals and doctors in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, occasionally examining patients who were still suffering from injuries received during the bombings. Many still had low blood counts and keloids, ugly overgrowths of scar tissue that occurred following thermal burns. Warren examined fifty-seven people. Some underwent sternal bone marrow biopsies, a procedure in which a small core of marrow is removed from the thin bone of the breast. During one biopsy, a needle broke and had to be extracted with pliers. When the patient shunned a second biopsy, Warren noted in his diary, aStoicism of the j.a.panese not too marked.a3 Soon after he returned to the United States, Albert Baird Hastings and Alan Gregg, both members of the AECas Medical Board of Review, the panel that had been convened briefly in 1947 to help the commission chart its new research program, approached Warren with a job offer. Was he interested in becoming the interim director of the AECas Division of Biology and Medicine? This was not the first time Warren had been approached to do work for Americaas nuclear establishment. When the United States entered World War II, Shields Warren was a reserve officer in the Navy. In early 1943 Stafford Warren paid him a visit. He atold me that I had exactly the skills that he needed for a project that he was involved with but couldnat tell me anything about it and would I leave the Navy and take this on? Well, I told him that I thought I was being useful where I was and didnat feel that while the war was on I could move around like a free agent and so I did not come into early contact with the Manhattan Project.a4 In 1947, however, the time was right. aThere were so many opportunities and such fine people to work with in this new Atomic Energy set-up that it was one of those challenging things I couldnat pa.s.s up,a he said in an interview which was filmed in 1974 and later converted to videotape.5 Warren was a pathologist at that time with the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, a position he maintained on a part-time basis during his AEC years. He commuted from Boston to Washington, D.C., lugging back and forth a fat briefcase filled with doc.u.ments. At the age of forty-nine, the expressive face of his youth had been winnowed down by the years: the full lips thinned and pressed against words that sometimes came haltingly, the eyes inscrutable behind spectacles, and lines of fatigue coursing down his cheeks. He could function efficiently on five hours of sleep but confessed that as he grew older, he had been forced to lengthen his usual rest to six or six and one-half hours a night. He worked six days a week, as he would continue to do until his seventies, and spoke in a slow deliberate voice in order to camouflage what one colleague described as a agentle stammer.a Warren was the ideal man to head up the AECas biomedical programs.6 He was a highly regarded scientist who had already made several important discoveries related to cancer. Early in his career, he had discovered that cancerous cells might be transported through the body by the lymphatic system, a finding that led to the practice of removing lymph nodes near cancerous tissue.7 He was also an expert on the effects of radiation on the human body. But even more important, he had the sophistication to navigate Washingtonas political waters.
Warren was probably the most influential biomedical scientist in AEC history and one of the enigmas of the Cold War. From 1947 to 1952 he helped the commission cobble together a vast network of national laboratories, universities, and hospitals that would investigate every imaginable effect of radiation over the next three decades. The research was part of the AECas dual mandate under the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to both promote atomic energy and protect the public from its harmful effects. Through grants, fellowships, contracts, construction projects, and the funding of huge machines, the AEC created a new industry and became one of the largest sponsors of scientific research in the United States.
Warren arrived at the AEC when the nuclear weapons program was in its infancy. Only five atomic bombs had been explodeda"one at Trinity, two in j.a.pan, and two at Crossroads. By the time he left in June of 1952, the arms race with the Soviet Union was well under way and the atmospheric testing program had become part of American life. Policy decisions Warren and other postwar researchers made during those years have affected the health of generations of Americans. For the atomic veterans and residents who lived downwind of the test site and the weapons plants, those decisions would have tragic consequences and sp.a.w.n a bitter debate that continues to this day.
After overcoming his initial doubts, Warren supported the first atomic bomb test in Nevada, in 1951, during which dangerous amounts of fallout were released and people living downwind were put at risk. The aominousa implications of inhaling alpha particles from fallout, which had been brought to Warrenas attention by Joseph Hamilton in 1949, were glossed over and the food chain dangers ignored.8 Warren also partic.i.p.ated in the debates over the placement of troops in Nevada. He repeatedly protested the reckless, short-sighted plans of the armed forces, only to capitulate or be overruled by his superiors. In time, volunteer soldiers would find themselves crouching in trenches one mile from Ground Zero, and specially trained pilots would be directed to fly straight into the hot, gaseous heart of thermonuclear clouds.
During the highly emotional fallout controversy that began in the mid-1950s, Warren aligned himself with such pa.s.sionate advocates of the testing program as Edward Teller and n.o.bel laureate Willard Libby. He agreed with the no-danger chorus of scientists who claimed that the biological risks from fission products were negligible.9 He also took the position, which has since been largely rejected by the scientific community, that there exists a threshold dose of radiation below which no damage will occur.
Records show that Warren routinely suppressed information that might provoke lawsuits or harm the AECas public image, and dealt brutally with outsiders. Yet doc.u.ments decla.s.sified in 1994 and 1995 also reveal a courageous scientist who spoke out in secret meetings against proposed human radiation experiments. One of his most heroic battles centered around the ill-fated plan supported by Robert Stone and others to expose prisoners serving life sentences to total-body irradiation, a process that undoubtedly would have led to the shortening of the subjectsa lives and the possible development of cancer. Warrenas admirers viewed him with a deferential awe; his enemies saw an opportunist who shifted with the political wind. aHe was a G.o.d to me,a recalled fellow pathologist Clarence Lushbaugh, who worked at both Los Alamos and Oak Ridge.10 aI considered him a saint,a said retired Air Force Colonel John Pickering.11 aI was never quite sure what he was up to,a remembered physicist Howard Andrews.12 aI shouldnat say that, but I never really quite trusted this man. I worked with him, and we wrote a couple of papers together having to do with frogs and oysters and things of that sort. But as far as things that went on in some fields, I thought he was a little slippery.a San Antonio physician Herman WiG.o.dsky said he didnat think Warren awas too swift.a And retired physiologist Nello Pace said Warren was akind of a turkey, full of himselfa"not like Stafford.1314 Stafford was just wonderful. But Shields was very old-fashioned in his att.i.tude that some M.D.s have: aOnly M.D.s and G.o.d can touch people.a a Even in 1950, when Joseph McCarthy was making charges in the Senate about the Communist leanings of AEC scientists, doc.u.ments show Warren was fearless in the closed-door showdowns with admirals and generals. But he was at heart a practical man, flinty and cold as the New England soil his forefathers settled on in the 1600s and fully capable of playing the villain. aYou must realize,a fellow scientist Merril Eisenbud once said of Warren, asome people are patriotic enough to lie.a15 Shields Warren was born in 1898, just two years after Stafford Warren, into an old New England family of Methodist ministers, educators, and farmers. His baby name was aShewannie.a One of his grandfathers was the first president of Boston University; the other was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt and the aunwilling lawyera for Mark Twain.16 His father was a philosophy professor at Boston University and dean of the school of liberal arts.17 His earliest memories were of Cape Cod: the smell of salt marshes and tide pools and the choppy north Atlantic, somnolent and calm under a June sky. Using a cloud as a light source, the young Warren focused the lens of his first mail-order microscope on the organisms in the tide pool. Their translucent, geometrical shapes burst into view and he was hooked. Between Greek and Latin cla.s.ses at a public school in Brookline, Ma.s.sachusetts, he crammed in science courses, preparing himself for a career in zoology.
Like his father and grandfather, Warren also attended Boston University. He graduated in 1918 with a bacheloras degree and immediately enrolled in the Army. He came down with the flu in artillery training camp, and while he was recovering, Armistice was declared. aThe mortality was terribly heavy,a he remembered in a 1972 oral history interview.18 aThis convinced me that there ought to be a better way of doing medicine than this, and while I was convalescing I made up my mind that medicine was what I wanted to do.a Warren decided to enroll in medical school at Harvard. In the meantime, he had a small agrubstakea from the Army and nearly a year off, so he decided to see Americaa"by rail. aI decided the best way of doing this would be to hobo.a19 Warren worked his way across America, experiencing a slice of life that young, well-bred men such as himself rarely saw. He stoked a freight train through the Rockies, worked in the shipyards in Portland, flipped pancakes in a lumberjack camp in the Pacific Northwest, picked fruit in California, and cut wheat in Oklahoma. The hobo life left him with a sense of self-sufficiency and the feeling that he could meet any challenge.
Warren graduated from medical school in 1923. Following another trip, this time to Europe, he joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School and continued to teach there until he retired. When he was a young resident, he autopsied several patients with Hodgkinas disease and learned to his amazement that they had died not from the disease, but from the radiation treatment theyad been given. aApparently n.o.body knew what happened when anybody had been irradiated,a he recalled.20 At the time of his AEC appointment, he was the author of aThe Effects of Radiation on Normal Tissues,a a compilation of scientific papers, which the AEC considered the definitive work of the time regarding the effects of radiation on the human body.21 Warren maintained a punishing schedule during his first few years on the job, making regular loops to the Manhattan Projectas laboratories at Los Alamos, Chicago, and Berkeley and its monolithic uranium and plutonium-producing factories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and eastern Washington state. During the trips, he tried to a.s.sess the health risks to workers and pollution problems. One of the first things he wanted to make sure of, he told AEC officials years later, was that there were no aepidemicsa brewing at the former Manhattan Project sites.22 By 1947 the AEC was acutely aware that radioactive waste was going to be a huge problem. Government officials debated whether to dump the material in the oceans, store it in vaults until radioactive decay had progressed sufficiently, collect it in garbage cans and bury it on federal property, or shoot it into s.p.a.ce by ainterplanetary rockets.a At Hanford a biologist had discovered that radioactivity levels in fish in the nearby Columbia River were on an average 100,000 times greater than the radioactivity in the water itself.2324 But Hanford officials were determined to keep the information from becoming public: aIt is recommended that all river contamination studies indicating the extent to which aquatic life in rivers concentrate and hold radioactivity should be cla.s.sified aSecret,a a an official wrote in 1948. aIt is further suggested that all problems related to radioactive contamination of our rivers be tightly held until reasonable solutions to these problems are available.a25 Warren spent the first few months on the job trying to get a handle on what was going on. aWhen I took over at AEC, we had to pick up threads at each installation, and find out from the people there what had been going on, what the local practices were,a he said.26 aThere were zero records that I received when I came to AEC and [I] had to depend primarily on word of mouth and the medical regulations and what medical history I could get from contractor personnel of the various installations.a Around Christmas of 1947, Shields Warren met with Joseph Hamilton. The two doctors, both lean, well-dressed men, were reminiscing about the early days of radioisotopes when suddenly the conversation veered into dangerous territory. Warren told AEC investigators, who interviewed him in 1974 about the plutonium injections, that he and Hamilton had been discussing aisotopic injectiona when Hamilton made an oblique reference to the autilization of plutonium.a27 Hamilton began the conversation by saying that Warren must have a ashrewd suspiciona about the radioisotope research the Berkeley group had done during the war. Warren replied that he was aware of the work from Hamiltonas published reports. aYes, but there are some unpublished things that you probably havenat heard of,a Warren remembered Hamilton saying.
Then Hamilton plunged into the details of the three plutonium injection cases in California. At the time of Hamiltonas disclosure, Albert Stevens was trying to restart his house painting business, Simmy Shaw was dead, and Elmer Allen had just been seen in UCSFas outpatient clinic several weeks earlier. (aa feels fine, has gained weight, has good stump,a a doctor noted in his medical chart.)28 aI had not known of any work in humans in plutonium up to that time. So I talked with him a little bit about it, and we did not get any facts, figures or numbers,a Warren told AEC investigators. The two men did discuss whether the California patients gave consent for the injections because doctors at the time were areasonably sensitivea about that issue. aYou know,a he quoted Hamilton as saying, awe have had something of a problem in this because there were very rigid restrictions on the use of the word plutoniuma and the handling of the material and letting anyone know that there was any such stuff.a Warren continued: Dr. Hamilton told me that he had explained to the patients that they would receivea"now I ve got to put my thoughts in order in thisa"that they would receive an injection of a new substance that was too new to say what it might do but that it had some properties like those of other substances that had been used to help growth processes in patients, or something of that general sort. You could not call it informed consent because they (the patients) did not know what it was, but they knew that it was a new, and to them, unknown substance.
Warren said he became concerned when he heard about the injections. aAll I knew about plutoniuma"there was practically nothing written down that was availablea"was that it was very nasty stuff.a Following the meeting, Warren talked the matter over with his trusted colleague, Alan Gregg. aWeave got a sticky problem here,a Warren quoted Gregg as saying.
Warren said he eventually learned by aosmosisa that additional patients had been injected with plutonium in Rochester, Chicago, and Oak Ridge. aOne might say I would pick up a stray bit of information one place or another.a He said he a.s.sumed records on the experiment existed, but he did not see them. aAnd when I inquired of Bob Stone, he said he thought it depended primarily on peopleas memories.a Warren and Gregg ordered new rules drawn up by the radioisotope distribution committee, a panel that approved the use of radioisotopes in human research. Then the two men let the matter drop. aWe saw no point in bringing this up after the fact as long as we were sure that nothing of this sort could happen in the future. This is because we a.s.sumed that those patients were all dead at that time.a Warren said he did not know of the acontinuing contacta some of the scientists had with the plutonium patients during his tenure. aTo the best of my knowledge, from the time that I took over, there were not any injections made. And I would have insisted that they not be made if this had been brought up to me at that time.a Doc.u.ments and excerpts from Warrenas own diaries reveal that events surrounding Joseph Hamiltonas disclosure were not quite the way Warren described them. Nor was his role quite so innocent. These records suggest that Warren learned the full extent of the plutonium experiment almost immediately, not years later as he implied in his interview with AEC investigators. Recently released doc.u.ments also show that Warrenas employees at AEC headquarters in 1950 authorized additional metabolic studies on Eda Schultz Charlton and John Mousso, two of the Rochester plutonium patients. The doc.u.mentation makes it highly unlikely that Warren himself was not aware of the acontinuing contacta with those patients or that he did not know that some subjects were still alive. Some newly decla.s.sified records also suggest that Warren may have even directed trusted colleagues to make low-key inquiries. One such doc.u.ment is the 1948 transcript of the telephone conversation with Rochester physician Joseph Howland in which he is asked about Ebb Cade.
Autocratic by nature, quiet and self-contained, not p.r.o.ne to emotional outbursts or idle chatter, Shields Warren quickly adapted to the AECas culture of secrecy, maintaining the cla.s.sification policies that had begun to be formulated in early 1947, before he arrived. Biological, medical, and environmental reports that might promote lawsuits or have an adverse affect on public relations were routinely cla.s.sified and locked away from public view. Shields Warren was just as determined as AEC general manager Carroll Wilson to keep the plutonium experiment concealed. In 1948, for example, he refused to decla.s.sify two reports dealing with the injections and agreed to the publication of the 1950 Los Alamos report coauth.o.r.ed by Wright Langham and Samuel Ba.s.sett provided the doc.u.ment be given a aconfidentiala cla.s.sification and that its circulation be limited.2930 A wealth of records released in the mid-1990s show unequivocally that the AEC covered up the plutonium experiment in part because of embarra.s.sment. But Warren denied in the AEC interview that embarra.s.sment was a factor: aI donat think we thought of it f
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