DOE Openness: Human Radiation Experiments: What's New
RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT FROM NUCLEAR WEAPON TESTING
The Department of Energy (DOE) Off-Site Radiation Exposure Review Project (ORERP) can be traced to a November 27, 1978, commitment by President Jimmy Carter to the people of Utah. Following meetings with Governor Scott Matheson and Mormon Church leaders, Carter ordered a review of earlier federal studies of leukemia and thyroid incidence in Utah. Carter made his announcement in Salt Lake City, in the heart of the state where numerous personal damage claims had been filed against the federal government for illnesses and deaths allegedly related to the radioactive fallout from United States atmospheric nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS).
At first Carter's orders applied only to Utah and to the Departments of Defense and Health, Education, and Welfare, but by January 1979 the President added the state of Nevada and the Department of Energy to his request. Carter directed the Departments of Energy and Health, Education, and Welfare to prepare an analysis of available statistics to determine whether any cancer patterns existed in Utah and Nevada as a result of the radioactive fallout from the NTS atmospheric testing.
President Carter also established in May 1979 an Interagency Task Force on the Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation to examine various aspects of the radiation issue, including the recommendation of how to compensate those exposed to radiation. Because the initial task force report contained little information on the problems of civilians living downwind from nuclear test sites, Stuart Eizenstat of the White House staff directed the task force to "pay particular attention" to the needs of those civilians. Eizenstat ordered the task force to report back to the White House by October 1, 1979, with a recommendation for resolving civilian injury claims.
The DOE Off-Site Radiation Exposure Review Project officially started on March 28, 1979, when Maj. Gen. Joseph K. Bratton, Director, Office of Military Application, designated the Nevada Operations Office as the lead energy department field office for the project. The Nevada office's mission then was to collect, store, and disperse the relevant historical data and information related to health effects and radioactive fallout from the NTS atmospheric nuclear testing.
By June 1979 the Nevada office had established a Coordination and Information Center (CIC) to house pertinent data and to prepare responses to inquiries and requests. Nevada office managers selected the Reynolds Electrical & Engineering Company, Inc. (REECo) to operate the CIC.
On June 8, 1979, Ruth C. Clusen, DOE's Assistant Secretary for Environment, gave the Nevada Field Office added responsibilities: assessing radiation exposures of offsite radiological conditions and planning and executing the project to reconstruct as much as possible both external and internal offsite public exposures from NTS testing. Clusen also directed the Nevada office to work with DOE headquarters to establish a dose assess-ment advisory steering group similar to one recommended earlier by the Nevada office. In July the office's managers met with representatives of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona (added in early 1979) to brief the state delegates on the new operation and to ask for cooperation.
The Dose Assessment Advisory Group (DAAG), successor to the steering committee, was officially established on July 8, 1980, by Charles W. Duncan, Jr., Secretary of the Department of Energy. The DAAG was limited to approximately 20 members, including representatives from the state governments whose citizens claimed injuries and losses from the NTS fallout. The project's scope was again broadened when Secretary Duncan decided that Arizona and California would have representatives along with Nevada and Utah on the DAAG; any additional state with claimants against fallout effects could also be invited to send a representative to the DAAG. The work of the DAAG was completed in May 1987 with the issuance of its final reports.
Meanwhile, in 1978 the DOE launched a comprehensive search for documents related to fallout outside the boundaries of the NTS. The History Division was designated the DOE Headquarters lead division to develop criteria and to guide the collection and processing of the documents related to testing, fallout, and radiation monitoring. In 1980 C&W Associates started working with the History Division as locator, selector, and processor of relevant documents to be deposited in the CIC. History Associates Incorporated (HAI), successor to C&W, took over the same duties in 1981 and in 1983 assumed declassification responsibilities. In 1983 the collection effort was expanded to include U.S. nuclear testing in the Pacific and NTS underground tests through 1972. Pertinent documents have been reproduced and assembled in the CIC in Las Vegas, Nevada. Those materials that have been organized and inventoried at the CIC are now open to the public.
Although the documents collected in the CIC constitute a large collection of information on radioactive fallout, it became apparent in 1981 that the extraordinary volume of such materials still held in many government and private facilities in all parts of the nation would make it impossible to assemble in the CIC every document that might conceivably be of value in studying the complex relationships that may exist between fallout and health. The History Division therefore requested HAI to prepare a guide to the many valuable record collections that exist outside the CIC and to update it regularly.
This guide has been prepared by professional historians who have a working knowledge of many of the record collections included in the following pages. In describing materials, they have tried to include enough information so that persons unfamiliar with the complexities of large record systems will be able to determine the nature of the information in, and the quality of, each record collection.
The guide is organized alphabetically by the names of the record repositories, not by the organizations which have custody of the records. It should be noted that arrangement by location does not reveal at a single glance all of the materials that may have originated in a specific laboratory, research center, or government agency. For example, records originated in one of the Atomic Energy Commission's national laboratories may, in some cases, be listed under the Federal Records Centers to which they have been retired. Thus, this guide includes an index of agencies originating documents and pages listing those agencies.
In presenting information on each repository, the historians have included a general introduction to each collection and then have added, in tabular form, a description of the part of the collection relevant to fallout, the size of the total collection in cubic or linear feet, the amount researchers have determined may hold material relevant to the subject, the highest security classification of the materials, and an evaluation of the usefulness of the material for research on the subject. This guide does not include collections that may have been sent independently to the CIC, such as those from the Utah State Archives.
The amount of "potentially relevant material" is the amount which HAI researchers have determined through finding aids would need to be screened in order to find relevant documents on the subject. For those repositories where HAI has selected and processed documents, a brief description is given of the amounts, in cubic feet, which HAI has researched, screened, and selected and their current status.
For the sake of simplicity, the evaluation shown in the "Value" column has been indicated as "Essential," "Useful," "Peripheral," or "Unknown." "Essential" records are those which the historians believe must be consulted by researchers in order to make accurate judgments about the nature and extent of fallout and its possible effects and to understand the policies and practices established by the federal government to protect the public. "Useful" records are those which provide additional detail about or further examples of information which has already been identified as "Essential." The "Peripheral" category includes records which appear to have some indirect relationship to the subject of fallout but which are not likely to provide information of great value. This evaluation is obviously subjective, but it does represent the opinion of historians who have experience in using records of this type. In evaluating the collections, the historians considered such factors as the date of the records, the continuity and completeness of the files, and the level of interpretation in addition to the simple question of relevance. Thus, documents reflecting policy decisions, administrative practices, or summaries of scientific or technical information are assigned a higher value than raw data, especially when these data have already been summarized in published works. Likewise, data specifically related to fallout from weapons tests were considered more valuable than records of routine air sampling or radiation monitoring conducted at Atomic Energy Commission sites in connection with normal plant operation having no relationship to weapons tests. Where HAI researchers have not yet been able to research a collection onsite and discussions with the persons responsible for the records have been inconclusive, the value is listed as "Unknown."
It was impossible within the scope of the contract to pursue the survey beyond records held by government agencies and some private institutions. In the course of the survey, the historians became aware that many valuable records are in the hands of private individuals who, at one time or another, were associated with nuclear weapons testing, fallout studies, or radiation monitoring. Because these records are now in private hands, there is real danger that in time they will be lost or destroyed. To that extent, the historical record will be less than complete unless some effort is made to obtain the originals or copies of these records for the CIC.
For every collection, the guide lists wherever possible a person to contact for further information. The historians found that, in many instances, the existence of the records cited is known only to one or two persons in the institution or agency.
One obvious and significant conclusion can be drawn from this guide: that there exists in widely dispersed locations an enormous volume of documentary evidence bearing directly on the possible radiation effects of fallout. The records evaluated as "Essential" and some of those listed as "Useful" should be screened and appropriate documents reproduced for the Coordination and Information Center. When this is done, it will fulfill a major objective of the CIC--namely, to collect in one location all of the essential documentation of fallout history.