The federal government owes a formal apology to victims of several Cold War radiation experiments, including Washington and Oregon prisoners and Hanford downwinders, a White House panel says.
The Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments also wants the government to pay some of the human guinea pigs.
In a draft of its final report, the committee says Hanford downwinders deserve compensation because “a substantial number” of thyroid cancers may have been caused by Hanford’s radiation emissions in the early days of the Cold War.
Congress should amend a 1990 federal law that compensated people who developed cancer downwind of the Nevada Test Site to include Hanford downwinders, the committee says.
According to current estimates, more than 2 million people in Oregon, Washington and Idaho may have been exposed to radiation released from Hanford from 1944 to 1972.
The 14-member panel appointed by President Clinton has been investigating a dark chapter of the Cold War - the government’s use of unwitting people in radiation experiments.
Between 1944 and 1974, the government didn’t protect the rights and interests of people it experimented on, the report notes.
The committee’s highest priority for compensation goes to people who were experimented on without their knowledge or consent, including:
Eighteen people, mostly poor and black, who were injected with highly toxic plutonium.
An unidentified subject injected with radioactive zirconium.
Several hospital patients whose entire bodies were bombarded with X-rays to determine what was a lethal dose.
Those who obtained no medical benefit from experiments - and were possibly harmed - also should be compensated, the panel says.
These experiments include:
The 131 Washington and Oregon prisoners whose testicles were bombarded with X-rays in the 1960s and early ‘70s to find the dose that would make them temporarily sterile.
Pregnant women fed radioactive iron in a series of Vanderbilt University nutrition experiments.
Iodine-131 experiments on native Alaskans.
The advisory panel said it won’t have time to determine which of these experiments harmed people. The committee is scheduled to finish its work and disband this fall.
Monetary damages in several of the experiments will be decided in court as a result of lawsuits, the panel noted.
Even if it can’t be proved the radiation experiments directly caused physical injury, the government still should apologize, the panelists said.
Participants were “particularly susceptible to exploitation” because of “their institutional setting, their age, their inability to understand English, or their state of health,” the report notes.
As many as 50,000 Americans may have been exposed to hazardous substances in approximately 4,000 government-funded radiation studies, the panel found.
The committee unearthed a revealing paper trail that shows that as early as 1947, Atomic Energy Commission officials adopted an internal policy that required human guinea pigs to be informed of the risks.
But the AEC ignored its own policy and proceeded with clandestine experiments. The agency lied to the public, saying the agency didn’t perform such experiments.
The panel was formed in April 1994 after Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary condemned human experiments in the early years of the atomic age.