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Hanford's nuclear guinea pigs sued US government

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(April 25, 1997) Lawyers of individual American Indians announced 2 April that they filed a class action suit, claiming the individuals were unwitting guinea pigs for deliberate radiation experiments at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Washington.

(471.4670) WISE Amsterdam -Sued are the US government and its alleged partners, for violations of their constitutional rights under 42 USC Section 1983, for infliction of radiological injuries compensable under 42 USC Section 2210 (the Price Anderson Act), civil conspiracy, assault, strict liability, neglicence and other violations. Alleged partners of the Government are in this case Du Pont, the University of Washington, Rockwell International and Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory.

The suit alleges that Native Americans have been subjected to systematic, clinical experimentation of the hazardous effects of ionizing radiation: planned, funded, coordinated, reviewed and orchestrated by agencies of the US, including the Atomic Energy Commission, the Departments of Energy and of Defense. From 1943 to 1972 a total of 740,000 curies of radioactivity were released at Hanford: iodine, plutonium, phosphorus, zinc and other byproducts of plutonium processing. More than 92% of the total amount was released between December 1944 and December 1947. Two other major releases occurred in 1949 and 1951 just before and after the start of the Korean War. People who were children at the time are thought to have received the highest doses from drinking milk produced by cows grazing in pastures downwind of Hanford.

The government continued monitoring the Native Americans to determine which disease effects could be detected over time from systematic exposure to repeated doses of radiation through their diet and way of live. Recently federal officials announced they will set up a program to monitor the health of 14,000 civilians who received the highest radiation doses, but without any intention of financial compensation or medical care. They will only be offered medical evaluations to detect thyroid neoplasms, a type of cancer, and other thyroid conditions. The group of individual Natives says the government arranged for radiation to be released deliberately and repeatedly to monitor the effects of high doses on plants, animals and people. The suit says all of Hanford's neighbours suffered, but the Indians were especially at risk because of their unique lifestyles and diet. They suffered significantly more intense radiological exposure than non-Native Americans. This fact was known by the US Government and underlies their selection for study of the health effects without their knowledge or consent; despite the fact that the US had developed policies and procedures as early as 1946 which required informed consent from subjects of human radiation experiments. This is a direct violation of their constitutional right of body integrity and of established government policies.

The residents of the areas around Hanford have suffered: cancers of thyroid, bone and skin; arthritis, diabetes and other auto-immune disorders, hypo-thyroidism, blood disorders and other serious injuries as a direct result from the Hanford radiation releases since 1943. In addition, the government consistently failed to disclose or acknowledge to the public the dangerous conditions it created and the resulting adverse public health effect, but instead practicised misrepresentation, concealment and/or false and misleading reassurances.

The Native Americans act like this to expose the conduct of the US government concerning human radiation experiments, to protect the Treaty rights of Native American people to live their way of live, to protect the human dignity of all American citizens from violation, to restore the cultural and natural resources of Native Americans, to ensure their constitutional protection and to provide a remedy for the physical and spiritual harm caused to them by these secrete radiation experiments. Maybe they will in the near future be financially compensated by the US government.

The new Energy secretary Pena plans to pay $6.5 million in compensation for radiation tests on 17 persons, injected with plutonium or uranium and about $50 million to 600 workers who mined uranium. Clinton is now implementing recommendations from a recent federal probe into radiation experiments that government agencies and research labs carried out on humans over three decades. A report issued end of March "Building the Public Trust" cites the steps taken to right the wrongs of the thousands of human radiation experiments, conducted from 1945 to 1975. Pena says most of the victims are dead so the living relatives will be financially compensated. Other measures to be taken in future to improve openness and ethics:

  • Signing of a memorandum by the president that would require informed consent from potential subjects of secret experiments and a formal, routine accounting of secret human studies
  • Amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 to compensate uranium miners who were denied payments under current law
  • Transfer of thousands of declassified documents to the National Archives.

This makes it more probable that Native Indians will get compensation for the experiments.


  • UPI Science News, 20 and 28 March and 2 April 1997
  • Atomic Harvest, M. D'Antonio, Crown Publishers, New York, 1993
  • US DOE, "Building the Public Trust", 28 March 1997.

Contact: Native Americans for a Clean environment, PO Box 1671, Tahlequah OK 74465, US
Tel: +1-918-4584322; Fax: +1-918-4580322