Factual evidence versus the consensus of ignorant opinion and propaganda during the 1957 U.S. Congressional Hearings on the Effects of Nuclear Fallout
Above: the theory of the experimentally observed threshold doses for the radium dial painters and for the Hiroshima survivors, discussed in detail with the evidence in an earlier post linked here. This post concentrates on examining the errors and cover-ups in the scare mongering on low-level radiation by geneticists at the May-June 1957 U.S. Congressional Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, The Nature of Radioactive Fallout and Its Effects on Man. In a nutshell, the whole error is summarized on page 1264 of those hearings by Dr Ralph E. Lapp:
(a) the radium dial painters of the first World War (who licked their brushes for a fine point when applying glowing radium-zinc sulphide paint to watches and aircraft instrument dials, ingesting radium which was deposited in their bones rather like calcium or strontium-90) were exposed to massive doses at a very low dose rate and did not get leukemia, but did get bone changes above and a risk of bone cancer at massive doses exceeding a threshold dose of 1000 R or more, spread over two decades. This led to the concept of permissible or safe doses based on the threshold.
(b) Dr Alice Stewart discovered that an increase in childhood leukemia could be produced by just 3-5 R for unborn children who were X-rayed at a very high dose rate, i.e. doses received over a matter of seconds or less, in the last two months of pregnancy (when cells are dividing rapidly).
Dr Lapp failed to point out the difference in the dose rates, which affect the threshold dose required, and claimed that Stewart's finding discredited the threshold concept altogether. DNA recovery from radiation by human DNA repair enzymes like protein P53 has been shown to be efficient at low dose rates, but overwhelmed and inefficient at high dose rates. Therefore, the dose rate determines the threshold dose for cancer induction. This was not made clear at the 1957 hearings. Doses from strontium-90 fallout in bone were received at a very low dose rate over decades, so the radium dial painter threshold dose applied, not the lower threshold from high dose rate exposure to initial nuclear radiation over a few seconds at Hiroshima or to medical X-ray doses received over a few seconds.
Above: already in the 1964 edition of Glasstone's Effects of Nuclear Weapons, it was experimentally indicated that for mammals (unlike fruitflies which only have a lifespan of around 30-40 days, and hence have no evolutionary pressure towards developing a sophisticated DNA repair mechanism, which is only important for mammals which need to survive the natural background ionizing radiation exposure, thermal instability of DNA at body temperature, and solar ultraviolet radiation over a period of decades), there is a DNA recovery mechanism that operates even from the genetic effects from radiation damage, so that high dose rates (which saturate and overwhelm the repair mechanisms) are more dagerous than lower dose rates! Page 618 of the 1964 edition explains why genetic effects were exaggerated by the linear no-threshold theory:
"Although genetic damage is cumulative, it is now recognized that the rate at which changes result from exposure to radiation is womewhat dependent on the dose rate. Prompt, high dose rate exposures (greater than 25 rads per minute) may be at least four times as effective as are continuous exposures at low dose rates (1 rad or less per minute), for the same total dose. Thus, the protracted exposure that could result from a low-dose fallout field would presumably not carry the same threat of genetic change as would exposure to a single high-intensity dose, e.g., from the initial nuclear radiation, although the total dose delivered may be the same in both cases."
The 1977 edition of the same book, by Glasstone and Dolan, gives further data showing that there is evidence for "threshold" doses below which no negative effects occur:
"From the earlier studies of radiation-induced mutations, made with fruitflies [by Nobel Laureate Hermann J. Muller and other geneticists who worked on plants, who falsely hyped their insect and plant data as valid for mammals like humans during the June 1957 U.S. Congressional Hearings on fallout effects], it appeared that the number (or frequency) of mutations in a given population ... is proportional to the total dose ... More recent experiments with mice, however, have shown that these conclusions need to be revised, at least for mammals. [Mammals are biologically closer to humans, in respect to DNA repair mechanisms, than short-lived insects whose life cycles are too small to have forced the evolutionary development of advanced DNA repair mechanisms, unlike mammals that need to survive for decades before reproducing.] When exposed to X-rays or gamma rays, the mutation frequency in these animals has been found to be dependent on the exposure (or dose) rate ...
"At an exposure rate of 0.009 roentgen per minute [0.54 R/hour], the total mutation frequency in female mice is indistinguishable from the spontaneous frequency. [Emphasis added.] There thus seems to be an exposure-rate threshold below which radiation-induced mutations are absent ... with adult female mice ... a delay of at least seven weeks between exposure to a substantial dose of radiation, either neutrons or gamma rays, and conception causes the mutation frequency in the offspring to drop almost to zero. ... recovery in the female members of the population would bring about a substantial reduction in the 'load' of mutations in subsequent generations."
- Samuel Glasstone and Philip J. Dolan, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, 3rd ed., 1977, pp. 611-3.
"... we know through [inappropriate fruitfly and maize] experiments in genetics that the frequency of these [DNA] breaks, like the frequency of the mutations of the genes, is linearly proportional to the dose of radiation used, no matter how small ... It is true that at high dose rates of radiation you sometimes have two chromosomal [DNA] breaks near together and then you can get entanglement [i.e. repair incorrectly done to the broken ends of DNA strands where two breaks occur nearby] which would not happen if you have low dose rates. At low dose rates you therefore expect [if you are ignoring DNA repair mechanisms like the enzyme protein P53, only discovered in the late 1970s] the effect to be proportional but at the high dose rates to go up even more steeply. ... there was a less than linear apparent effect at very high doses, owing, as we judged, to the fact that the cells that had been worse hit were killed off more so that we lost the cases. But I do not see any way of getting a fundamentally nonlinear effect, especially at low doses. If the process takes place in any way like what we think it does, that is. [It doesn't, since in 1957 Muller and the other geneticists were ignorant of the DNA repair mechanisms discovered in the late 1970s!]"
- Nobel Laureate Hermann J. Muller's deceptive testimony to the Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Congress of the Unites States, The Nature of Radioactive Fallout and Its Effects on Man, June 1957, vol. 2, pages 1054 and 1138.
Above: numbers have become more accurate over the past half century, but the data on massive threshold radiation doses required for chronic exposure (low dose rates for 20 years exposure, as opposed to acute exposure over a few seconds for Hiroshima initial radiation which is more likely to saturate DNA strand breakage repair mechanisms like enzyme P53) to produce bone cancers in radium dial painters, was submitted to Congressional hearings on fallout in 1957 (which we discussed in connection with fallout research on the earlier post linked here) in a paper called Potential Hazards of World-Wide Sr-90 Fallout from Weapons Tests by Drs. Wright H. Langham and Ernest C. Anderson of Los Alamos. The solid data for the radium dial painter threshold evidence was simply ignored by Professor Edward Lewis, who instead fabricated false "evidence" for a linear, non-threshold theory from nuclear explosions in Japan, by means of ignoring statistics from Japan which did not fit his theory.
The U.S. National Bureau of Standards reported in 1941 that seven people with 0.02-0.5 micrograms of radium in their bodies for periods of 7-25 years had no effects, while bone cancer and death had resulted from 1.2 micrograms of radium: this finding historically resulted in the conservative setting of a maximum permissible safe concentration of 0.1 micrograms for radium in the body (which means that a greater quantity can be ingested, because most ingested radium is rapidly eliminated from the body and does not enter the bones: even for injected radium, the mean amounts remaining in the bodies of 19 patients after 6 months, 12 months and 20 years were just 4.7%, 2.2% and 0.8% respectively as reported on page 1162 of the 1957 fallout hearings). (A curie or 3.7×1010 Bq or decays per second, is equivalent to about 1 gram of radium.)
By the time of the June 1957 Congressional hearings on fallout effects, the group of internally contaminated radium workers and patients whose dosimetry had been established by careful whole body radiation measurements and excretion measurements, had grown to 78 people with an average exposure period of 25 years, of whom 15 developed malignant tumors; all of the tumors occurred in those people with the highest contamination, 0.5-10 micrograms of radium in their bodies. However, as pages 1155-6 of the testimony points out, the patient with 0.5 micrograms of radium apparently also had thorium contamination which increased the total dose received. Pages 1147-72 of the 1957 fallout hearings consists of detailed testimony of the research on this group up to that time. The radium dial painters licked their brushes to get a fine point to apply the luminous radium/zinc sulphide paint to the numerals and hands of watches; the patients were given radium contaminated water to drink as a health remedy. After presenting these data, Dr William B. Looney (b. 1922) testified (page 1157 of the hearings):
"I am saying that the minimal carcinogenic dose that we have reported for tumors to be produced in man is in the order of 2,000 rads. ... Ten microcuries of strontium deposited in the skeleton for 70 years would give an estimated dose of about 2,000 rads. This is the minimum radiation dose recorded which has produced a bone tumor in man. This should give some idea of the magnitude of strontium levels which may produce a bone tumor in man. You will notice that 6,000 rads is the estimated amount of radiation known to produce most tumors. The amount of strontium 90 which would deliver 6,000 rads to the skeleton over a life span of 70 years would be in the order of 30 microcuries. ... The patient with the smallest total body radium known to induce tumor formation ... died from a bone tumor in 1952 ... the patient would have received a total accumulated dose of about 1,800 rads during the 25-year period."
Since 1957, the group of radium contaminated workers and patients for which there is accurate dosimetry by measurements has increased from 78 to 2,383, and of these 2,383 cases: "All 64 bone sarcoma [cancer] cases occurred in the 264 cases with more than 10 Gy [1,000 rads], while no sarcomas appeared in the 2,119 radium cases with less than 10 Gy." [Dr Robert Rowland, Director of the Center for Human Radiobiology, "Bone Sarcoma in Humans Induced by Radium: A Threshold Response?", Proceedings of the 27th Annual Meeting, European Society for Radiation Biology, Radioprotection colloquies, Vol. 32CI (1997), pp. 331-8.]
On May 27, 28, 29 and June 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, 1957, the Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Radiation of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Congress of the United States, Eighty-Fifth Congress, First Session on The Nature of Radioactive Fallout and Its Effects on Man, were held openly under the Chairmanship of Representative Chet Holifield of California, with media attendance. The published hearings are 2,216 pages in length, printed in three separate volumes (part 1 is pages 1-1,008, part 2 contains pages 1,009-2,065, and part 3 contains pages 2,067-2,216). During the debates between experts in these hearings, the "threshold dose" concept for long term effects was falsely killed off, in favour of Edward Lewis's linear non-threshold dose-effects "law" using non-scientific arguments and fears.
Above: this is the graph Professor Edward Lewis used on page 956 of the 1957 fallout hearings to attack the threshold dose evidence: for this purpose it relies on one allegedly solid data point for leukemia induction below 200 rem (numbers below data points are the excess numbers of leukemias over the natural number expected). This smallest dose data point is from the data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki available in 1957: there were 10 cases of leukemia out of 23,000 survivors at 1.5-2 km from ground zero in both cities, and from the unexposed control group only 4 would have been expected to have leukemia. Hence, the average radiation dose to those 23,000 survivors - assumed to be 25 rem using the very crude and inaccurate dosimetry which was available in 1957 - gave an excess cancer rate of 10 - 4 = 6 cases per 23,000 survivors. This is statistically insignificant, as testified by Dr Shields Warren on page 980. Moreover, Lewis ignored data from nuclear bomb survivors who received low doses and had a reduced leukemia risk as a consequence: page 1887 gives a table of leukemia results from Hiroshima available in 1957 which shows that there were 8 leukemia cases in the control group of 50,500 people beyond 2.5 km from ground zero (i.e. a rate of 0.016%), and only 2 cases in the 17,200 survivors who received low doses of radiation at 2-2.5 km (i.e. a rate of 0.012%). Hence, that table (from a U.S. National Academy of Sciences report, Pathologic Effects of Atomic Radiation, submitted as testimony) showed even in 1957 that low doses of radiation appeared to have a beneficial effect in reducing the natural cancer incidence below the rate in the control group. Lewis simply ignored this data which did not fit into his dogmatic linear non-threshold theory. Later data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki has far better, accurate and verified (against nuclear test data from the Pacific and Nevada) dosimetry as well as leukemia and solid cancer (tumor) data spanning over six decades: it confirms that threshold and beneficial effects exist but is suppressed and censored by the Japanese-American funded Radiation Effects Research Foundation to keep Lewis's false linear non-threshold dogma alive for political expediency.
‘Professor Edward Lewis used data from four independent populations exposed to radiation to demonstrate that the incidence of leukemia was linearly related to the accumulated dose of radiation. ... Outspoken scientists, including Linus Pauling, used Lewis’s risk estimate to inform the public about the danger of nuclear fallout by estimating the number of leukemia deaths that would be caused by the test detonations. In May of 1957 Lewis’s analysis of the radiation-induced human leukemia data was published as a lead article in Science magazine [E. B. Lewis, 'Leukemia and Ionizing Radiation', Science, v. 125, pp. 965-972, 17 May 1957]. In June he presented it before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy of the US Congress.’ – Abstract of thesis by Jennifer Caron, Edward Lewis and Radioactive Fallout: the Impact of Caltech Biologists Over Nuclear Weapons Testing in the 1950s and 60s, Caltech, January 2003.
Lewis's pseudo-scientific linear non-threshold deception in testimony to Congress led to Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling using the data to estimate that strontium-90 in nuclear weapons testing would cause 1,000 leukemia deaths for each fission megaton of air bursts, by giving a very tiny increase in background radiation to the bones of billions of people around the world. However, radium is deposited in the bone and by analogy to strontium-90 the data for 2,383 radium dial painters who ingested radium licking their brushes to a fine point shows that bone cancer induction requires a threshold of 1,000 rads, and there was no excess of leukemias. Nobody has ever received 1,000 rads from strontium-90 ingestion from a nuclear bomb (not even the Rongelapese who drank contaminated rainwater for two days 115 miles downwind from the 15 megaton BRAVO test in 1954). Both leukemia and thyroid cancer have traditionally had diagnosis problems. The rates reported in different communities, or the same communities at different times in history, vary widely due to the rate of diagnosis rather than the true incidence. For example, before the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the reported thyroid tumor rates in the Gomel region of Belarus (mean thyroid dose to kids = 17.7 rads) were under 1 case per 100,000; in the US it was 13,000 (13% of the population) and in Finland 35,600 (35.6%). The Gomel region started to diagnose thyroid problems properly only after Chernobyl and reported a peak of 17.9 cases per 100,000 children (0.0179%) in 1995. This statistic can be used both for and against radiation:
(1) The 1995 peak of 0.0179% of Gomel people with occult thyroid cancers after 17.7 rads to the thyroid from Chernobyl's iodine-131 shows a 25-fold increase over the incidence in 1987. Hence, radiation is terrible, and the iodine-131 from Nevada testing probably caused many cancers!
(2) The 1995 peak of 0.0179% of Gomel people with occult thyroid cancers after 17.7 rads to the thyroid from Chernobyl's iodine-131 shows a 726-fold reduction from the normal rate in the U.S. and a 2,000-fold reduction from the normal rate in Finland. Hence, radiation is great, and the iodine-131 from Nevada testing probably saved many people getting cancer!
This conflict of interpretation is typical of the quackery of "ecological" studies of cancer rates due to radiation: having a proper control group is essential to getting meaningful information because it's the only way to determine statistical significance and to calibrate diagnosis rates properly. Improved diagnosis led to a rise in the reported crude mortality rate for leukemia in the U.S. from 42 per million per year in 1940 to 68 in 1954. Unless you know the diagnosis efficiency, reported cancer rates are useless. A lot of the data that Lewis used is this kind of statistical noise, lacking proper control groups to determine if errors exist.
Dr Gordon M. Dunning, chief Health Physicist for at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission for fallout safety during nuclear weapons tests, wrote in the June 1964 edition of Health Aspects of Nuclear Weapons Testing, page 13:
"In describing the therapeutic use of iodine 131 in the treatment of hyperthyroidism, the [U.S. National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, Pathological Effects of Thyroid Irradiation, A Report of a Panel of Experts from the Committees on Biological Effects of Radiation, July 1962; revised version date December 1966 is AD0651181, which notes that for a given dose the thyroid damage due to X-rays is more severe than that due to iodine-131 because the X-rays are received at a higher dose rate in a matter of seconds, while the dose from iodine-131 is received at a lower rate, spread over several weeks] report stated: '... There is no evidence at hand, except for one doubtful case in a child, that any of the treatments for hyperthyroidism has produced a thyroid cancer, although doses have ranged from a few thousand rad (roentgens) upward ...'."
After that was published, there was an argument between Dr Dunning and an anti-nuclear information group, published in the September 1964 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, pages 29-30. Dunning, who had been in charge of public safety and iodine-131 monitoring during the 1950s, pointed out that a medical study that found that "one in 286 children exposed to 100 rads of throid radiation may develop thyroid cancer" and a 1961 Federal Radiation Council report that 150 rads "significantly increasd cancer rates" applied to therapeutic X-ray irradiation delivered at very high dose rates (X-rays over a period of seconds, unlike iodine-131 doses delivered spread over a period of weeks) which (quoting from U.S. National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, Pathological Effects of Thyroid Irradiation, A Report of a Panel of Experts from the Committees on Biological Effects of Radiation, July 1962) "appear to be 5 to 15 times as effective as iodine 131 ... There is no evidence at hand, except for one doubtful case in a child, that any of the treatments for hyperthyroidism has produced a thyroid cancer, although doses have ranged from a few thousand rad upward. ..."
Dr Dunning added in his letter to the September 1964 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, pages 29 that (because iodine-131 is of course highly volatile and doesn't condense quickly on fast-falling large fallout particles, so it is fractionated i.e. severely depleted from local fallout near the test site, but enriched in the distant fallout far downwind): "... the highest annual levels of iodine-131 in milk ever reported by the U.S. Public Health Service Milk Monitoring Network were at Palmer, Alaska (October 1961 through September 1962) ... The iodine-131 fallout in Alaska was largely the result of the USSR tests i.e., not local fallout. Incidentally, the Russian tests also were the principal source of the cesium 137 fallout in Alaska ..."
The thyroid damage to the people of Rongelap 115 miles downwind of the 14.8 megatons CASTLE-BRAVO nuclear test in March 1954 was due to their consumption of water from a fallout contaminated open cistern which collected rainwater (and fallout). They took no precautions and as a result received massive doses (from not just iodine-131 but also the other shorter lived iodine nuclides) according to the dosimetry based on iodine-131 excretion in the report by Dr Edward T. Lessard, et al., Thyroid Absorbed Dose for People at Rongelap, Utirik, and Sifo on March 1, 1954, BNL-5188. The people on Rongelap received mean thyroid doses from ingested water of 2,100 rads, those at Sifo received 670 rads, and those at Utirik received 280 rads. Therefore, the fact that some of the people did get thyroid nodules from their massive thyroid doses was to be expected, and does not prove the existence of a risk below the observed thresholds for the relevant dose rates.
(We discussed the civil defense countermeasures against iodine-131 and the other short half-life iodine nuclides in fallout in detail in the earlier post linked here. The main hazard is to young children with small thyroid glands that concentrate iodine (a small thyroid gland size implies a large dose, because the radiation "dose" is defined as the energy deposited per unit mass of tissue, i.e. 1 centigray = 0.01 J/kg) who drink much fresh milk from cattle grazing on fallout contaminated pasture. Iodine is volatile so it fractionates strongly in fallout, with little of it condensing on to large fallout particles which descend quickly near the detonation, and most of it condensing slowly on small particles which remain at high altitudes for long periods, where most of the activity safely decays before deposition. The small fraction of volatile iodine nuclides which manage to descend to the ground before decaying into safe non-radioactive products are chemically attached to particles and are purely an ingestion hazard due to drinking milk from cattle ingesting fallout or drinking water from shallow open cisterns which do not dilute the activity much. Human experiments at the July 1962 104 kt Nevada nuclear test SEDAN showed that the integrated inhalation dose from iodine-131 to a person standing outside in the fallout area without protection was trivial compared to the gamma dose received. Hence the pathway for significant iodine doses is ingestion of contaminated milk and water, not inhalation. In the Nevada SEDAN test, a man who was exposed in the open to the base surge without any protection received a thyroid gland dose due only slightly higher than his external gamma exposure. Three air samplers determined that no more than 10% of the iodine in the Sedan fallout was present as a vapour during the cloud passage; i.e., 90% or more of the iodine was fixed in the silicate Sedan fallout and was unable to evaporate from the fallout particles to give a soluble vapour. For the very different, humid conditions of the Marshall islands, this conclusion was also confirmed by data (BNL-5188) on the iodine contamination of drinking water consumed by the Rongelap islanders and their measured iodine excretion of iodine; ingestion of iodine was the exposure route, not inhalation. The peak iodine-131 contamination of milk occurs 2-3 days after fallout deposition due to the conbination of the 8-days physical half-life and the metabolism of cattle. Ingestion of iodine can be prevented by many methods: avoiding consumption of fallout contaminated milk and water for a month after the detonation; passing water and milk through any simple ion-exchange absorber to decontaminate them before drinking; drinking contaminated milk/water and simply taking potassium iodate tablets daily to saturate the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine and thus block iodine uptake for the first month; using dried milk or UHT treated milk in place of fresh milk for a month; drinking water from deep water sources where the iodine contaminated has been diluted substantially; keeping dairy cattle under cover and on uncontaminated winter fodder for a month after detonation; using contaminated milk to make long-life products like milk powder, UHT milk, cheese, etc., which can be consumed later after the 8-day half life iodine contamination has safely decayed. See also the discussion of general fallout predictions and countermeasures on the earlier posts here and here.)
Dr John F. Loutit of the Medical Research Council, Harwell, England, in 1962 wrote a book called Irradiation of Mice and Men (University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London), discrediting the pseudo-science from geneticist Edward Lewis on pages 61, and 78-79:
‘... Mole [R. H. Mole, Brit. J. Radiol., v32, p497, 1959] gave different groups of mice an integrated total of 1,000 r of X-rays over a period of 4 weeks. But the dose-rate - and therefore the radiation-free time between fractions - was varied from 81 r/hour intermittently to 1.3 r/hour continuously. The incidence of leukemia varied from 40 per cent (within 15 months of the start of irradiation) in the first group to 5 per cent in the last compared with 2 per cent incidence in irradiated controls. ...
‘What Lewis did, and which I have not copied, was to include in his table another group - spontaneous incidence of leukemia (Brooklyn, N.Y.) - who are taken to have received only natural background radiation throughout life at the very low dose-rate of 0.1-0.2 rad per year: the best estimate is listed as 2 x 10-6 like the others in the table. But the value of 2 x 10-6 was not calculated from the data as for the other groups; it was merely adopted. By its adoption and multiplication with the average age in years of Brooklyners - 33.7 years and radiation dose per year of 0.1-0.2 rad - a mortality rate of 7 to 13 cases per million per year due to background radiation was deduced, or some 10-20 per cent of the observed rate of 65 cases per million per year. ...
‘All these points are very much against the basic hypothesis of Lewis of a linear relation of dose to leukemic effect irrespective of time. Unhappily it is not possible to claim for Lewis’s work as others have done, “It is now possible to calculate - within narrow limits - how many deaths from leukemia will result in any population from an increase in fall-out or other source of radiation” [Leading article in Science, vol. 125, p. 963, 1957]. This is just wishful journalese.
‘The burning questions to me are not what are the numbers of leukemia to be expected from atom bombs or radiotherapy, but what is to be expected from natural background .... Furthermore, to obtain estimates of these, I believe it is wrong to go to [1950s inaccurate, dose rate effect ignoring, data from] atom bombs, where the radiations are qualitatively different [i.e., including effects from neutrons] and, more important, the dose-rate outstandingly different.’
This is supported by the following statements in the British Medical Research Council report of June 1956, The Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiations, which is reprinted in the 1957 congressional hearings, pp. 1539-1614:
"[Page 1548] Repair processes. [Paragraph 27] ... Repair processes within the individual cell are little understood and still largely a matter of speculation [in 1956], but they must play an important part after low doses. ...
"[Page 1612] [Paragraph 303] A study of the pitchblende miners of Schneeberg and Joachimsthal suggests strongly that inhalation of the radioactive gas radon may lead to cancer of the lung. The latent period has been put at 17 years and the dosage to the lungs over that period at about 1000 r and in some parts of the lung much higher."
"[Page 1613] [Paragraph 309] Delayed effects of radiation on the skin extend from a temporary loss of hair after local dosages of 300-400 r to severe and permanent damage after a local exposure to single doses of 1500 r or more, or to repeated doses totalling 4000 r or more in a number of weeks. It is in the skin damaged by these higher doses of radiation that tumours, when they occur, are most likely to develop."
Professor Edward Lewis's 1957 congressional fallout testimony on page 956 contradicts his testimony on page 959. He starts on page 956 stating that leukemia data is "rather good":
"... the reason that I am stressing leukemia today is that we have rather good data and rather good evidence on leukemia as compared to data on other effects on man from ionizing radiation ..."
Then on page 959 he admits that the leukemia data is not good at low doses:
"In the low-dose region here, there is a dashed line, and there are only six individuals on which to say anything. The point here, however, is that in the absence of any other information it seems to me - this is my personal opinion - that the only prudent course is to assume that a straight-line relationship holds here as well as elsewhere in the higher dose region.
"It may be that there is a threshold - that is, a dose below which leukemia will not develop. However, we can say safely, I think, that if there is a threshold dose it must be below 100 r. The reason for saying that is that in the region below 100 r, you would not expect to have gotten the 6 cases of leukemia as a result of chance more than 1 in 50 times."
Lewis simply ignores the effect of dose rate on cancer induction! The whole reason why the radium dial painters had a massive threshold of 1,000 rads for cancer, as opposed to a cancer threshold on the order of 5 rads at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is the dose rate. The radium dial painters received massive doses of radiation at low dose rates over a period of decades so that DNA repair mechanisms could repair many of the DNA breaks and reduce the cancer risk, while the doses at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were spread over just a matter of seconds at a very high dose rate, which was more liable to overload the DNA repair mechanism by causing breaks faster than they could be repaired, so that loose ends of DNA are "rejoined" to the wrong segment ends (this is unlikely at low dose rates because there is plenty of time for repair after each break before the next break occurs).
What happened in thise 1957 hearings was that geneticists like Lewis and also Nobel laureate Hermann Muller dogmatically believed from their fruit fly genetic data (totally inappropriate to humans) that radiation effects were a linear, non-threshold response to dose. Fruit flies and even mice are inappropriate because they are all short-lived and have evolved without the highly efficient DNA repair enzyme mechanisms used by long-lived human beings. (DNA is naturally being damaged all the time. This is a benefit to relatively short-lived bacteria, flies and mice because it allows them to evolve faster to changing environmental conditions, but it is a danger to humans because without efficient DNA repair, everyone would get cancer and die before the reproductive age of 20-40. Therefore, humans and other long-lived animals have evolved complex DNA repair systems which are effective at preventing both natural and radiation induced cancer up to a certain threshold dose rate; the data prove that only severe exposure overloads the DNA repair mechanisms and can cause cancer.)
Against these dogmatic crusading geneticists, the radiation cancer researchers testified cautiously in favour of a threshold dose for cancer induction using observational data. E.g., on pages 1147-1194 it is testified that there is a threshold dose of thousands of rads to the bones from radium required before any radium dial painter (who regularly licked the brush to get a fine point while working) received bone cancer many years later. On page 1558 it is shown that lung cancers to uranium mine workers who inhaled radon gas required lung doses of about 1,000-10,000 rads over a mean latent period of 17 years, while on page 1887 the data from Hiroshima showed that the small radiation doses at 2-2.5 km from the bombs caused a reduction in the leukemia incidence (0.012%) to slightly below the natural incidence (0.016%) that occurred in the control group beyond 2.5 km, although the numbers of cases were so few at that time that this particular evidence was not statistically significant (unlike the data available today, and indeed since about 1979). There was also weaker evidence from Dr Willard F. Libby on page 1517 that the leukemia incidence in the high-altitude city of Denver which is exposed to nearly double the cosmic radiation of San Francisco has only 62% of that in San Francisco (which is at sea level). On page 980, testimony is given that the background radiation dose over 30 years at sea level is 3.1 rads, but it is 5.5 rads in Denver due to the altitude and thus the increased cosmic radiation.
This kind of evidence for low level radiation benefits is "ecological" because it's not a properly controlled study: you have to apply hundreds of slightly uncertain correction factors to allow for the differences between the population of Denver to that of San Francisco - differences in smoking, drinking, age, diet, exercise and so on - so that the uncertainties in the hundreds of correction factors accumulate to generally make the overall result statistically insignificant. (The underlying reason why threshold evidence is ignored is simply that the critics of the linear non-threshold theory so far tend to promote very weak or quack evidence such as ecological studies which are just as much junk science as Ernest Sternglass's crackpottery, where he claims that the decrease in infant mortality due to medical improvements was somehow a natural exponential law which should have continued forever, and that the fact that it levelled off is thus to be considered proof of harm due to radiation from nuclear testing! Until all such propaganda and quackery, both pro- and anti-radiation, is removed from the scene, the facts will remain submerged by endless, unfruitful controversy.)
The case for a threshold was testified by the President for the American Association for Cancer Research, Dr Jacob Furth (who in 1928 was the first to discover that radiation can induce cancer in mice), and the United States representative to the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, pioneering radiation pathologist Dr Shields Warren (1898-1980) of the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston. Dr Furth's statement on pages 978-9 gives the threshold dose-effects response the following scientific support:
"The complex mammalian host is capable of compensating for subtle damage. It has been shown that partial body irradiation is not conducive to leukemia development; the unexposed parts powerfully protect the exposed part. Thus, if direct hits cause mutation, humoral substances either counteract or reverse their actions. ... The early radiologists who got such cancers had severe radiation burns with chronic ulcers in which the tumors arose. ... It deserves emphasis that cancer did not arise on the hands of tens of thousands of people receiving huge quantities in small doses [allowing recovery between exposures] over long periods [an analogy here is ultraviolet radiation ionization to the skin from natural sun bathing; if you spread out your exposure and get a little each day, there is evidence that the risk of skin cancer is lower than if you get the same dose all in one brief exposure to a similar spectrum of radiation but received at an extremely high intensity on a sun bed which burns your skin badly, or while outdoors for many hours without any protection]. ... The very idea that leukemia and cancers result from a direct hit mutation was never solidly proven ... Newer evidence unquestionably indicates that some indirect factor [discovered decades later to be human DNA repair enzymes like protein P53, which are stimulated to can repair radiation induced DNA breaks in humans at low doses but of course become overloaded if the dose rate is too high and causes DNA strands to break repeatedly before they can be repaired correctly] plays a determining role in the development of leukemias or tumors."
Dr Shields Warren added on page 980: "I would like to point out that the results at the lower end of the scale that has been used by Dr Lewis [to try to defend the linear non-threshold theory] are not considered as actually statistically significant."
He added on page 981: "With acute or chronic radiation there is what is called a threshold effect in body cells. In other words, because many cells can continue to function even though irradiated and many cells in the body can be repaired even though damaged, we find that at low levels of radiation there is no observable effect."
More crucially, Dr Warren invoked the radium dial painters threshold dose data for the strontium-90 fallout leukemia propaganda on page 987:
"It is striking that in those persons who have had radium deposited in their bones there has been no evidence of leukemia, even though [after receiving massive doses of several thousands of rads] they have developed bone sarcoma [tumours]."
On page 1006, Dr Warren testified:
"I have favored the concept of a threshold for most carcinogenic agents for a number of reasons. First, that in our experiments with carcinogenic hydrocarbons, which are known to be derived from such substances as coal tar, we find that a threshold exists for them. We find that, with many of the medicines that are commonly used for one or another effect on cells, there is a threshold effect to those medicines. ... I like to think of this reparative force, these agents and others which Dr Furth mentioned, as being things which counteract the effect of very low level radiation."
Dr H. L. Friedell, Director of the Atomic Energy Medical Research Project in the School of Medicine at Western Reserve University, testified on page 1001, showing how statistical correlations of death rates in radiologists to the unexposed population can give totally false results unless there is an effort to understand the mechanism for radiation damage in detail:
"I think it is important to show that the activity of radiology itself does not attract into it people who are likely to have a higher death rate, especially at the higher ages, because very early in radiology an individual who had one sort of illness or another was often given the advice to enter radiology, because it appeared to be a sedentary occupation. ... It is difficult trying to make this decision from the statistics alone.
"An example of how this might occur is something that was presented by George Bernard Shaw ... Statistics were presented to him to show that as immunization increased, various communicable diseases decreased in England. He hired somebody to count up the telegraph poles erected in various years ... and it turned out that telegraph poles were being increased in number. He said, 'Therefore, this is clear evidence that the way to eliminate communicable diseases is to build a lot more telegraph poles'.
"All I would like to say here is that the important point is that if you really want to understand it, you have to look at the mechanism of the occurrence. I think this is where the emphasis should lie."
Dr Austin M. Brues, MD (born 1906, Director of the Biological and Medical Research Division of Argonne National Laboratory) added the following comments on page 1001 in support of the threshold:
"If you have two experiments with the same kind of mice treated in the same way, you will expect the second one to come out the same way the first one did. You take a prediction of that sort as simply representing honesty on the part of the investigator. That is why the experiment was repeated in which the irradiated mice lived a little longer because it was difficult to believe, and needed to be confirmed. I think perhaps a lot of our experiments that come out the 'right' way should be repeated too." [Emphasis added.]
On page 1007, Dr Ernest Pollard of Yale University's biophysics department agreed with Dr Friedell's remarks on the need to substantiate mere statistical studies with investigations on the biological mechanism for the radiation damage repair at low doses, but argued that in the meantime, to be "conservative", the linear non-threshold theory should be "assumed":
"... the conservative thing to do in obtaining that knowledge is to assume linearity and therefore no threshold."
The problem here is that once you dogmatically "assume" something in science, you can't later shift it when scientific data arises that challenges the dogma, because it becomes an ingrained foundation of the textbooks, the teaching courses, the "beliefs" of students studying radiology and health physics, researchers, and so on. E.g., dogmatically assuming that the earth is the centre of the universe seemed sensible at one time based on the available evidence, but it was later used to fend off evidence that the earth rotates daily and actually orbits the sun annually. The reason why the new evidence was censored was because the old dogmatic assumption had become an ingrained foundation of science. It is hard to shift foundations because foundations are assumed to be solid building blocks so that mainstream widely-believed theories are built upon them (e.g., Ptolemy's epicycle method of predicting planetary positions in the earth-centred universe model), and facts are endlessly arranged around them. Once a student had invested years learning Ptolemy's epicycle prediction method based on the foundation of the sun orbiting the earth, the student developed loyality to that model and an irrational belief in the foundations to that model, as well as a subject loyality. Criticism of dogmatic foundations was falsely dismissed by educated epicycle students as being "ignorant" or "anti-science".
On page 1143, Dr James F. Crow, professor of genetics and zoology at Wisconsin University, testified:
"I believe most geneticists are convinced that at least some of the somatic [cell division such as related to cancer; not inherited genetic] effects of radiation are of a linear non-threshold sort. I don't think anybody would be so dogmatic as to state that all such effects are or even what the fraction is."
Geneticist and Nobel laureate Dr Muller then stated on page 1143:
"My opinion is ... that the most important effects ... are in all probability linear without a threshold."
On page 1144, Senator Anderson commented favourably on the groupthink advocacy of the linear, non-threshold theory by all the geneticists who had testified:
"I am just wondering if geneticists had a union, guild or gang, or something that teaches you to hang together? This is ... certainly the most agreed group I have seen. I commend you of the fact that you have been able to hang together as long as you have through a rather long day."
Dr Crow then stated in response on page 1144 that their scientific dogma is firm, but not their quantitative facts that supposedly confirm the dogma:
"I think the conclusion that any effect of radiation is harmful is about as firm a scientific conclusion ever is. Of course, the quantitative figures are much less firm."
In other words, Dr Crow was advocating a religious type belief system, a pseudo-scientific dogma justified by majority opinion and the mere consensus of geneticists about cancer induction by radiation. As Feynman repeatedly spelled out, this dogmatic consensus of ignorant opinion is the opposite of science:
‘Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.’ - Richard Feynman in Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics, Houghton-Mifflin, 2006, p. 307.
Dr Friedell testified on pages 902-3:
"In effect, what I am saying is large doses produce tumors and leukemia, and by 'large doses', I am talking about thousands of roentgens, many hundreds of roentgens. If you set yourself up with a model in which you show that these doses will produce tumors and leukemia, and then extrapolate down to low levels ... how good are these extrapolations - is this conjecture? Is this soundly conceived?
"I wish I could offer an authoritative statement right now to end all of this discussion, but unfortunately I cannot. However, I would like to say this: That I am concerned about the fact that there are no [statistically significant, June 1957] data at the very low levels. It is just nonexistent. Much below a hundred roentgens, or 25 roentgens in the case of mutations, we have no data. ... One of the reasons we are using large doses [in animal experiments] is that you have to have some kind of statistical security in looking at the information. To discover an effect which would occur once in 10,000 times, you would require an inordinate number of biological specimens ... for this reason we do not have really secure data."
On pages 904-6, Dr Friedell argued that cells must have some kind of DNA repair mechanism simply because most of the DNA damage due to radiation does not cause cancer; there is an immense amount of natural non-cancer causing cellular ionization caused by natural background radiation, which is so much more intense than global nuclear testing fallout from the hundreds megatons of thermonuclear tests during the 1950s:
"If you are interested in numbers, each one of us are receiving or having about 3,000 to 5,000 ionizing events per cubic centimeter per second ... We are living in a sea of radiation ... This, of course, is concerned with the whole concept of whether the effects will be occurring at low levels in the same rate that they are occurring at high levels, and whether there is such a thing as a threshold. In other words, is there some level below which nothing will happen?
"Again, this is very difficult to establish. The evidence, as I see it, is inconclusive in this direction, and if I had to choose, if I had to make a decision now, if I were compelled to make a decision, I would hesitate to accept this [Edward Lewis] concept that a threshold does not exist. ...
"I would say, from the point of view of production of tumors, and leukemias, I would hesitate to accept the concept that a threshold does not exist. From a point of view of genetics ... I would like to point out the data on mutations and genetic effects do not exist below 25 roentgens. ...
"I think probably the most important thing is to look at the basic aspects of what occurs in biological systems, so that we can understand the mechanism, so that we can see whether once we understand this mechanism it fits in with the data which we already have. And here I feel is where the greatest possibility for really learning something about it exists. I would like to see this emphasized over and above the efforts to perhaps use 10 million mice [whose DNA repair mechanisms differ significantly to humans, due to their short lifespan and hence lack of the evolutionary human need to survive to a reproductive age of decades without cancer] at very low levels. I would think that basic studies of biochemical [DNA repair] effects, the possible way in which these things occur, would contribute more than doing such statistical studies [on mice]. ... I do not feel we have yet really looked at this in an unbiased and nonemotional manner."
Dr Friedell's written testimony on pages 908-10 states:
"At the lower dose levels there is rapid recovery. At the higher dose levels recovery is markedly impaired ... Protraction and fractionation of the radiation delivered markedly reduces the total somatic biological effect. ... Generally, radiation delivered over a long period of time gives some of the tissues an opportunity to recover (a process which is poorly understood) and, therefore, increases survival. ... With respect to the genetic effects, which have been extensively studied by biologists, there are sufficient uncertainties even in these data that it is not possible to accept them as entirely unassailable. These include the fact that data at low levels do not exist, that data are confined at present to Drosophila [fruit flies] and a few small mammals such as mice, that the mutation rate due to ultraviolet radiation appears to be nonlinear, and there is reason to believe that some of the energy transfer with ionizing radiation is in part of the same character as that with ultraviolet radiation."
Against this was extensive political-type, non-scientific testimony from Dr Ralph E. Lapp (1917-2004), who had written a series of articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about civil defense against fallout after the 1954 BRAVO test fallout, and in 1957 he had been to Japan to interview the fallout contaminated crew of the Lucky Dragon for a book he was researching. (We have discussed the Lucky Dragon incident and the communist propaganda concerning the death of one of the crew due to an unnecessary and infected blood transfusion on the earlier blog post linked here.) In fact, Lapp cut short his trip to Japan to testify at the Congressional Hearings on fallout.
We have discussed Lapp's influence on radiation hysteria briefly in a previous post. In 2002, he wrote a damning letter published in the Washington Post (Thursday, November 21, 2002; Page A40), in which he complained about too much fear of radiation:
'Radiation Risk Realities. The Nov. 11 front-page story on "dirty bomb" risks, "Hunting a Deadly Soviet Legacy," needed to put the threat in perspective. The release of radioactive cesium into the atmosphere from the Chernobyl plant in 1986 was 1,000 times as great as the release in the "dirty bomb" scenario. In assessing radiation risk, it is essential to understand the basic facts about data accumulated during half a century of medical studies. Among a half-million Hiroshima survivors, for example, fewer than 1 percent of the observed cancer deaths were the result of the A-bomb radiation. How many Americans know that?'
But in his 1957 testimony to Congress, which spans pages 1241-84 of the published Hearings, he doom-mongered to the extent of trying to turn the Hearings into a witch hunt naming as "reckless" the honest Atomic Energy Commission health physicists Drs Merril Eisenbud (the author of Environmental Radioactivity and An Environmental Odyssey), Willard Libby (who won the Nobel Prize for discovering how to use naturally radioactive carbon-14 to date things) and Richard Doan, who had all stated the fact in public that the radiation dose from low-dose rate strontium-90 test fallout was tens of thousands to millions of times lower than the threshold minimum dose observed for cancer induction in the radium dial painters. On page 1279, Lapp quoted all their statements which he falsely deemed "reckless":
Reckless or nonsubstantiated statements do a disservice to the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] and to the Nation.
Example: Dr Eisenbud is quoted in an article titled "Man Who Measures A-Fallout Belittles Danger" (Sunday News, New York, March 20, 1955) as follows: "The total fallout to date from all tests would have to be multiplied by a million to produce visible, deleterious effects except in areas close to the explosion, itself."
Example: Dr Libby in a speech dated June 3, 1955, stated: "However, as far as immediate or somatic damage to the health is concerned, the fallout dosage rate as of January 1 of this year in the United States could be increased 15,000 times without hazard."
Example: Dr Richard Dean while in Tokyo on May 13, 1957 stated that the bomb tests would not have "the slightest possible effect" on humans.
I do not label Dr Libby's statement as reckless but interpose it to illustrate the spectrum of opinion being given to the public.
In fact, Dr Eisenbud's statement that a million times more fallout would be required to exceed the observed threshold dose for cancer was merely summarizing calculations in Appendix E to Glasstone's 1950 Effects of Atomic Weapons (which found that 400,000,000 bomb tests of nominal 20 kt yield i.e. 8,000,000 megatons would be required to cause a threshold hazard from plutonium-239 ingestion and 755,000 nominal bomb tests i.e. 15,100 megatons would be required to create a minimal external radiation hazard) and the fallout hazard situation had actually improved since 1950 with regard to the discovery that strontium is discriminated against by plants and animals, reducing human uptake substantially (for the situation before this strontium discrimination by the food chain was known, see Worldwide Effects of Atomic Weapons: Project Sunshine, RAND Corp. report R-251-AEC, August 6, 1953). Dr Lapp was well aware of this, but chose to gain publicity by joining the alarmist low-level radiation scare-mongering bandwaggon. Then in his 2002 letter to the Washington Post complains about lying radiation hysteria! It was too late to change prejudices he helped sow back in 1957.
Dr Lapp also wrote an article attacking relatively clean nuclear weapons, 'The "Humanitarian" H-Bomb', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 1956, V. XII, No. 7, pp. 261-264. There, his main complaint is that lithium deuteride costs more than depleted uranium, although he at least explains fission product fractionation in fallout very clearly. As we explained in the previous post, the clean thermonuclear weapon became a stockpiled reality in the form of the neutron bomb, which averts fallout due to low fission yield and a burst altitude to avoid dirt being sucked into the fireball. This eliminates collateral fallout damage, while retaining a credible, fearful deterrence.
"It is not contended that there is no risk however minute. But all life, and every minute of our day and night, is measured in terms of risk - 40,000 highway deaths each year in this country, accidents in the home, etc. We make our choice: How much risk are we willing to take as payment for our pleasures (swimming at the seashore, for example), our comfort or our material progress? Here our choice seems much clearer. Are we willing to take this very small and rigidly controlled risk, or would we prefer to run the risk of annihilation which might result if we surrendered the weapons which are so essential to our freedom and our actual survival."
- Dr Willard F. Libby, page 1519 of the 1957 congressional hearings on fallout.
Testimony and opinion came from 50 expert scientific witnesses who personally conducted fallout research at Nevada and Pacific nuclear weapons tests, including the Scientific Director of nuclear testing Dr Alvin C. Graves (1912-1966), the Technical Director of the U.S. Armed Forces Special Weapons Project Dr Frank H. Shelton, as well as university academic scientists studying genetic risks of radiation and cancer risks, including Nobel Laureates Hermann J. Muller, Willard F. Libby and Edward B. Lewis. The Foreword (by Carl T. Durham, Chair of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and Chet Holifield, Chair of the Special Subcommittee on Radiation) to volume one of the printed hearings acknowledges "the excellent support we received from the staff and from the committee's consultant, Dr Paul Tompkins [born 1914, PhD received in biochemistry, California, 1941; Manhattan Project from 1943-9, U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory from 1949], technical director of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the University of California, whose advice was most helpful in connection with technical questions which arose during the course of the hearings."
We've previously given some extracts from these 1957 fallout hearings on blog posts here and here. One of the reasons for my earlier interest is that Tompkins submitted for the record a number of U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory reports on fallout prediction and decontamination by Schuert, Triffet, Carl F. Miller, and others, which have never been published elsewhere:
Above: notice that Schuert's fallout predictions for 1956 Bikini Atoll Operation Redwing tests Tewa (5.01 Mt total yield, 87% fission), Zuni (3.53 Mt total yield, 15% fission), Flathead (365 kt total yield, 73% fission) and Navajo (4.5 Mt total yield, 5% fission) published on pages 304-307 have the map scales all reduced by a factor of 2, halving the apparent linear dimensions and thus reducing the apparent fallout areas by a factor of 4, compared to the accurate fallout patterns distance scales in the declassified 1961 Redwing fallout compendium report WT-1317 pages 140-143.
As explained on this blog before, the official compendium of all American nuclear test fallout patterns, DASA-1251, first declassified partially in 1979, is very seriously in error due to such errors in the scales of fallout patterns, which is particularly severe for the 110 kt Castle-Koon surface burst, but also for many important megaton yield range nuclear test fallout patterns. The reason for the persistence of such careless errors propagating for decades through the fallout prediction literature and confusing the efforts to model and predict fallout, has been partly the general secrecy of fallout from the very beginning, and partly a lack of effort to widely publish the declassified facts in a high-quality format which is clearly printed (most declassified reports are copies of copies with bits blanked out and cut out, which are in turn copies of originals, and the print quality is very poor and a strain to read, let alone examine closely for errors).
Edward A. Schuert's A Fallout Forecasting Technique with Results Obtained at the Eniwetok Proving Ground, U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory Technical Report USNRDL-TR-139, May 1957 is now only publically available in a practically useless, very poor quality (presumably a scan of a copy of a copy of a microfiche film) PDF file here. So we've created a very high quality (22.7 MB) PDF version with clear diagrams of the essential nuclear test fallout predictions, using the version of Schuert's fallout prediction report USNRDL-TR-139 published in the 1957 U.S. Congressional Hearings (omitting all obsolete diagrams on cloud heights, etc., and keeping to information which remains useful today, so that the file size does not require an excessive download time). Schuert's simple, quick fallout area and "hotline" prediction technique is vital for simple emergency fallout predictions and was used by the British Home Office Scientific Advisory Branch for civil defense fallout manuals during the Cold War (predicted dose rates were added to the forecast "hotline" by simply using computer calculated graphs of dose rate versus downwind distance for various wind speeds and weapon yields, published in chapter 5 of Philip J. Dolan's Capabilities of Nuclear Weapons, DNA-EM-1).
Dr Alvin C. Graves (4 November 1909-1966), Scientific Director of Operations Ivy and Castle
The most dramatic testimony in the 1957 hearings came on pages 53-104 from Dr Alvin C. Graves of Los Alamos. Graves is featured talking extensively about nuclear weapons with actor Reed Hadley in the 1952 film of the first ten megaton hydrogen bomb test, Operation IVY, shot MIKE. On May 21, 1946, Graves was irradiated with 360 rem (although he was told his dose was just 200 rem to prevent undue worry, and he still believed that at the 1957 hearings!) when his friend, Dr Louis Slotin, was demonstrating to him a criticality experiment with a 6.2 kg plutonium nuclear bomb core, in which he placed the bottom half of the core in a beryllium tamper and kept the upper half just slightly separated by a screwdriver blade to avoid criticality. The following photograph shows the situation just before the screwdriver slipped and the assembly went critical, releasing a burst of radiation and heating up until thermal expansion quenched the reaction and reverted the assembly to a sub-critical condition:
Slotin, being closest received a 2100 rem average trunk lethal dose in the accident (which was a near repetition of the August 21, 1945 criticality accident involving a plutonium core in a tungsten carbide reflector which killed Harry K. Daghlian 28 days after a dose of 510 rem), with much larger localized exposures to his hands, which swelled up since they had been in contact with the assembly soon after fission (Slotin had a much higher local dose to his hands than any tank crew under a properly air burst neutron bomb explosion could possibly get, contrary to hysterical radiation effects propaganda which Samuel Cohen discredited in his book The Truth About the Neutron Bomb). Slotin died 9 days later. Graves was the next closest and received 360 rem, but was told he had 200 rem to avoid stress while recovering from radiation sickness. Graves describes the experience in detail on pages 103-4 of the 1957 hearings:
Representative Van Zandt: "Mr. Chairman, may I ask this question. Doctor, how many roentgens did your body absorb in the Los Alamos accident?"
Dr Graves: "I had about 200 [it was actually 360]."
Representative Cole: "From outward appearances you look rather healthy."
Dr Graves: "Thank you."
Representative Cole: "At this time some several years later."
Dr Graves: "That was in 1946, so it has been 11 years. But this really is not important. You may have one person take 200 roentgens as I did and be perfectly happy for 10 years. But does it give me a greater probability of having cancer or does it give me a greater probability of this, that or the other, we just do not know. The danger is not that this will happen to you. The danger is that it is more likely to happen to you. Maybe the more likely is not very much more likely, but it is still more likely. [Graves died from a heart condition in 1966, 20 years after his exposure.]"
Representative Van Zandt: "Doctor, how did this dose of radiation affect you?"
Dr Graves: "I was nauseated for the first day. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks. I never did feel very sick but I was quite - I did not have very much ambition, I was tired, I got tired climbing steps and so on, and this lasted for perhaps 6 months. At the end of 6 months I was back to work, and I can't tell any difference now."
Representative Van Zandt: "Did it affect your hair in any way?"
Dr Graves: "I lost the hair on one side of my head. I did not have to shave for a while, which was a byproduct that was useful."
Representative Van Zandt: "How about your eye?"
Dr Graves: "I have a radiation cataract in one eye. The other eye is perfectly all right."
Representative Holifield: "What was the white corpuscle count at the end of 6 months?"
Dr Graves: "At the end of 6 months it was back to normal. You can't tell anything. You can examine me with a microscope or anything else, and you can't tell any difference now. At the time my white blood cell count dropped from about 8,000 or 9,000, which was normal, down to around 2,000. Again I don't have these numbers in front of me, so I don't remember exactly. But at the end of perhaps a week or 10 days the count began to increase again, and got back to normal. As a matter of fact, it got above normal. By 6 months it was back to normal, and stayed there ever since."
Representative Holifield: "Dr Graves, I think I express the feelings of every member of this committee that have known about this for so many years, that we are glad you are in as good health as you are today, and we want to again express our thanks to you for the tremendous contribution you have made to the security of our Nation."
Representative Cole: "Mr Chairman, I just want to concur in what you have said with respect to the attitude of the committee toward Dr Graves' work. But since we have engaged in some rather personal questions of him with respect to consequences of his exposure, I would like to inquire if since that occurred you have increased your family in any way, and if so, whether the progeny is apparently normal and healthy. Mr Chairman, I do not ask it facetiously. Here is a man who has been exposed to a degree of radiation probably greater than any person that we know. He has told us the consequences to him of his own body. Since radiation exposure has been said to involve a question of sterility and so forth, unless he would rather not answer, i would like to give him the opportunity of indicating."
Dr Graves: "I had one daughter before the accident. I have had a daughter and son since the accident. The daughter and son as far as can be told are perfectly normal kids. We love them very much."
Representative Van Zandt: "From a heredity standpoint, do they show any extraordinary amount of energy as a result of your brush with atomic energy?"
Dr Graves: "Speaking as a parent they are very intelligent children."
As time permits, this blog post will be extended to examine in detail the testimony in the 1957 fallout hearings, showing how different scientists presented evidence for and against the "threshold" and "non-threshold" dose-effects response to radiation for cancer induction and genetic effects, and also examining other aspects of the hearings. (A paper on decontaminating water from the hearings is linked here.) One important point is that pages 321-3 state that a detailed paper on the nature of fallout was submitted by Charles E. Adams of the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, but was not printed. As a result, there is no discussion in the hearings of the visible nature of fallout as a contaminant itself, and the testimony is limited to just the way that fallout is deposited and the radiation it emits. (If photos of fallout particles and trays showing the visible fallout associated with various dose rates and doses had been published in 1957, a lot of the hysteria about "invisible fallout dangers" and confusion about the distinction between actual fallout particles and particles of nuclear radiation could have avoided.)