How USA experimented on its own citizens with radioactive contamination

COMMENTARY: 1949 nuclear experiment is an ugly legacy of Hanford
BY SUSAN CUNDIFF AND PATRICIA HOOVER The Register-Guard  December 2, 2012 
Many of us in the timber-rich Northwest are familiar with such terms
as “pulling the green chain” and fresh-cut “green” wood. But how many
know the term “Green Run?” Never heard of it? That’s because it was a

On Dec. 2, 1949, officials at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in
southeastern Washington deliberately experimented on residents in the
area by releasing raw, irradiated uranium fuel. It was the largest
known single incident of intentional radioactive contamination ever.
It’s come to be known as the Green Run; in this case “green” meant

Normally, radiated fuel would be cooled for 83 to 101 days to allow
some of the short-lived radioactive materials to decay before
releasing those materials into the environment. For this test,
officials waited a mere 16 days and did not filter the exhaust.

Over a seven-hour period, 7,780 curies of iodine-131 and 20,000 curies
of xenon-133 were released. To put these numbers in perspective, the
Three Mile Island accident released between 15 and 24 curies of
radioactive iodine. Women and children were evacuated, and milk was

During the Green Run, Air Force planes measured the deposits of
iodine-131 on ground vegetation within a 200- by 40-mile plume that
stretched from The Dalles to Spokane. Vegetation samples taken in
Kennewick, Wash., revealed nearly 1,000 times the acceptable daily
limit of iodine-131.

Citizens in the area routinely accepted unusual practices devised by
Hanford officials as natural and patriotic: urine samples were left on
porches for pick-up, schoolchildren went through whole-body counter
scans, and men in white coats palpated students’ throats around the
thyroid gland.
As thyroid disease and cancer rates rose among the populations of
Richland, Wash., The Dalles, Hermiston and the surrounding
countryside, the public began to question the safety of Hanford’s
practices. They were assured that “not one atom” had ever escaped from
Hanford and that it was as “safe as mother’s milk.” Of course, if
mother is contaminated, her breast milk is, too — as is the milk from
dairy cattle in the area, the salmon in the river, and vegetables and
fruit from the farms and ranches nearby.

With all their collected data, officials had to know the health
consequences. And still the deception continued. Press releases
recommended iodized salt and trucked-in pasteurized milk, but only as
mere suggestions. In fact, all public health records from Hanford were
sent only to Walla Walla, Wash., and never recorded at the state
Capitol, thus ensuring that health research would not contain damning

The Green Run was only part of a much larger pattern of contamination.
From 1944 to 1957 a total of 724,779 curies of iodine-131 were
released into the atmosphere.

Why conduct an experiment such as the Green Run? Were the military and
the Atomic Energy Commission trying to develop a method for
determining production rates in the Soviet Union? Were Hanford
officials attempting to speed up their own production? Or was
something more sinister going on?
We may never know, because specific reasons for the experimentation
remain classified. It took 37 years for the public to learn anything
at all about the Green Run, and only then because grass-roots groups
forced the release of documents through the Freedom of Information

According to Michele Gerber, author of “On the Home Front,” “…the
question of whether the Green Run was a radiological warfare
experiment, designed to test harm to foodstuffs and living creatures,
is still open.”

Hanford continues to pose risks. Radioactive contaminants leak into
the water table and the river. Cleanup efforts stall.

Vitrification, the process of turning waste into glass, was supposed
to be the answer to the problem. In 2010, a whistle-blower warned that
the $12.2 billion plant under construction might be seriously flawed.
He was pushed aside for his ethical stand. Recent announceinclude the hiring of a new manager to take over the “problem-plagued
construction at the Hanford vitrification plant” (Register Guard, Nov.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Oregon’s Ron Wyden
spoke of nuclear weapons production as “the largest, most
ultra-hazardous industry of its kind in the world.” Wyden’s concerns
about Hanford continue now that he is in the Senate, and he has
traveled to Japan to learn more about the disastrous nuclear plant
site at Fukushima.

Today, Dec. 2, is a time to remember the atrocities of the Green Run
and renew our call for transparency in the secretive nuclear industry.
As we search for viable solutions to our energy needs, we must insist
on openness, truth and safety, striving together for real green


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