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DEADLY EXPOSURE: "[The Atomic Energy Commission] released the following information: 'Accidental release of radioactivity detected offsite only.' This most likely translates to 'more deadly radiation exposure to workers.'".

THE SERIES of 45 nuclear bomb tests were called Operation Nougat, and me next detonation, code named Antler, number 195, with a 2.6kt [kiloton] yield, was detonated Sept. 15, 1961, at the Nevada Test Site. Afterwards, the reentry team was ready to go into the tunnel, but there was a secondary explosion that blew out the portal. No one knew what caused that second blast. The radiation-safe monitors reported that the water in the drainage pond next to the highway was reading 72R [roentgen]. The Atomic Energy Commission explained this as an "accidental release of radiation detected offsite."

The next nuclear shot, code named Chena, number 198, with a yield stated as being "low," was detonated Oct. 10, 1961. This test had many problems. Not much data was recovered because the underground area was extremely contaminated. The only information obtained was an AEC bulletin that announced there was an accidental release of radioactivity detected onsite. That meant that workers again were exposed to deadly radiation.

A teletype from REECo to the AEC, dated Nov. 28, 1961, had a subject line saying, "IMPACT ON TUNNEL ACTIVITIES DUE TO RADIATION CEILINGS." It stated:

Your instructions that maximum of 3R per quarter must be observed has forced a 75 percent shutdown of tunnel B activities due to insufficient number of underground personnel with little or no radiation exposure for this quarter. All available new hires are being utilized in E tunnel complex. We understand that you can now authorize up to 12R per year for operational necessity, but only 3R per quarter, compared with previous limits of 5R per year and 3R per quarter. Unless maximum quarterly allowance is increased, the following will result:

Event in tunnel B will be appreciably delayed.

1. Future tunnel events will likely be delayed. Nature of delay indeterminate at this time and dependent on problem which might be encountered. Accident potential greatly increased due to inability to work new green hires along with experienced miners in tunnels having radiation levels.

2. We may be forced to retain large numbers of underground personnel on the payroll in a nonproductive capacity awaiting expiration of maximum allowable dosage period or opening of new underground facilities. The latter required, in most instances, a four to six week period from time of new tunnel authorization to time of full utilization of miners.

We urgently request that approximately 30 key personnel now working in B tunnel, all of whom have exceeded or are about to exceed 3R for the quarter, be allowed to continue working in B tunnel. This is considered necessary if we are to meet test schedules and is highly desirable from an economic standpoint, as well as the morale of this group of men, and safety of other workmen.

We further request that the quarterly maximum allowable dosage be increased to at least 5R with the total of 12R per year. These dosages could be at the discretion of the Test Manager to fulfill operational needs and spot requirements. List of 30 men now working in B tunnel with exposures for the quarter and year shown below. We estimate maximum exposure to the people to be 300 [milliroentgens] per week for the next 3 to 4 weeks.

My husband Glenn's name was listed at the bottom of that teletype.

A nuclear detonation two months later, code named Feather, number 204, with a 150kt yield, was set off Dec. 22, 1961. This blast caused many severe radiation problems. In fact, officials decided to try to maintain ventilation by turning on fans inside the tunnel to get rid of the radiation into the atmosphere rather than keeping it in the work area. A ventilation duct was laid on the mesa above the tunnel, and workers drilled a hole from the tunnel to the mesa. After the nuclear event was executed, it was Glenn's job to go with one rad-safe employee to the mesa to determine if the ventilation system was functional.

When the two men got to the mesa, Glenn found that the ground motion from the blast had broken the ventilation pipe at many seams, rendering it useless. The rad-safe employee told Glenn that it was safe for him to do his work there because his radiation monitor was only reading a few R and the wind was blowing away from them.

The rad-safe employee left but, while he was gone, the wind changed direction. Now it was coming right over the ventilation pipe toward Glenn, which he was unaware of. When the rad-safe employee returned, he reported the radiation levels on the net to the control station personnel below. As soon as control personnel heard the radiation levels, Glenn was ordered to leave the mesa immediately. He already had exceeded his yearly radiation dosage, and was working on a waiver. Unknown to Glenn, it is obvious the AEC considered him expendable.

In regards to the nuclear detonation two months earlier, code named Chena, Glenn was not allowed to work inside the tunnel area, but rad-safe directed him to supervise and direct his crew from outside the tunnel. His radiation exposure at that point was off the charts. Somehow, he magically qualified to work inside the tunnel two months later on the "Feather" nuclear detonation.

Nuclear test code named Danny Boy, number 216, with 430 tons of explosives, was detonated March 5, 1962. It made a crater 265 feet across and 84 feet deep. A "crater" is defined as "a nuclear device placed shallow enough underground to produce a throw-out of earth when exploded."

AEC released the following information: "Accidental release of radioactivity detected offsite only." This most likely translates to "more deadly radiation exposure to workers."

On April 14, 1962, a nuclear detonation with the code name Platte, number 225, with a 1.85kt yield, was detonated. It was a weapons-related, tunnel-shaft test. That nuclear blast was a bad one. It split that line of sight pipe all the way from the mesa, and it split the mountain open--fallout venting through a series of holes that the explosion had opened from the tunnel to the face of the mesa. Venting from the portal also was evident.

Radiation lurking in that tunnel was quite deadly--so deadly, in fact, that the rad-safe logbook notes on the reentry that, on the swing shift, "Film badges changed, and survey made of all personnel." Twelve people were contaminated above tolerance. One worker had a high radiation reading in his hair. These people were escorted to the Area 12 change house for the decontamination operation, and they were released after two or three trips through the shower. That was very important--to wash the contamination off the skin, but nothing could be done about the contamination inhaled by the workers.

The AEC explained there was "accidental release of radioactivity detected offsite." There was no mention of the "onsite radioactivity" or the workers who were escorted to the Area 12 change house to be decontaminated.

Another nuclear detonation, code named Des Moines, number 253, with a 2.9kt yield, was set off June 13, 1962. Shortly after the bomb was detonated, an evacuation order was issued, warning everyone to leave the area immediately. The only way to exit was a two-lane gravel road. However, people evacuating that area made it a four-lane, one-way road in order to get out of Dodge fast.

One of the scientists was standing in a close filming area, capturing the aftermath of the event, when everything began blowing out of the tunnel. The scientist overheard a couple of miners rushing to their vehicles while saying, "We worked all night putting more than three thousand sandbags in that tunnel--and there they all go." The AEC announced to the public, "Accidental release of radioactivity detected offsite." Maybe it should have warned the employees to watch out for flying sandbags.

The next 52 tests all were categorized under Operation Storax. A nuclear test code named Marshmallow, number 261, with a "low" yield, was detonated July 2, 1962. There is no information on this except the response, "Accidental release of radioactivity detected onsite only."

More workers were contaminated by cancer-causing radiation exposure. A crater detonation code named Sedan, number 264, was set off July 6, 1962, with a 104kt yield. It was an excavation experiment and caused a crater 1,280 feet in diameter and 320 feet deep. It was a thermonuclear device, and radioactivity was detected offsite.

Three months after the Sedan detonation, the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in a tense political and military standoff called the Cuban Missile Crisis. After seizing power in the Caribbean island nation of Cuba in 1959, leftist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro aligned himself with the Soviet Union. Under Castro, Cuba grew dependent on the Soviets for military and economic aid.

The Cuban Missile Crisis began over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, which is just 90 miles from the U.S. shore. The two superpowers plunged into one of their biggest Cold War confrontations after the pilot of the American U-2 spy plane made a high-altitude pass over Cuba on Oct. 14, 1962, and photographed a Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation.

Pres. John F. Kennedy was briefed about the situation Oct. 16, and he immediately called together a group of advisors and officials known as the Executive Committee (or ExCom). For the next two weeks, JFK and his team wrestled with a diplomatic crisis of epic proportions.

In an Oct. 22 TV address, Kennedy notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba, and made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to use military forces--if necessary--to neutralize this threat to our national security. Many people feared the world was on the brink of a nuclear war.

However, the disaster was avoided when the U.S. agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's offer to remove the missiles in exchange for the promise that the U.S. would not invade Cuba. Both the U.S. and USSR were sobered by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following year, a direct hotline communication link was installed between Washington and Moscow to help defuse similar situations.

The two superpowers signed treaties related to nuclear weapons. The Cold War was far from over, though. The crisis convinced CCCP to increase its investment in an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. from Soviet territory. Nuclear experiments never stopped at the Nevada Test Site during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1962, several nuclear detonations revealed radioactivity detected onsite as well as offsite. However, the government would release no other information.


Dot Clayton, who worked at the Nevada Test Site--employed by an engineering company responsible for the survey work in preparation for nuclear bomb tests--is the author of Dying for Answers: Expendable Workers of the Cold War Nuclear Testing, from which this article is adapted.
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Title Annotation:USA YESTERDAY
Author:Clayton, Dot
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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