Sunday, May 21, 2017

MIA: Public Records of Radiation Research Conducted During War

I'm writing a research paper on nuclear "governmentality." Governmentality research takes a particular problem, such as radiation exposure and dose effects, and explores how key constructs were defined and deployed historically, and up to the present era, by addressing the following:
Institutions that produced, managed, or exploited radiation: E.g., Manhattan Project, Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission Report (ABCC).

Knowledge formations/discourses about radiation: E.g., "Health Physics" and alternative knowledges produced by dissident authorities. Researchers' address key problem-solution frames and models that are foundational to particular knowledge formations.

Authorities: Key types of authorities (and expertise) privileged within dominant institutions, as well as the characteristics and operations of oppositional authorities.

Technologies developed to exploit or contain radiation: Atomic bomb, atomic medicine, radiation dentistry, etc.

Strategies and Tactics: Strategic designs and deployments of the above, as illustrated by the medical isotope program that was promoted by the war machine to help legitimize atomic power to global populations horrified by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

All together, these components produce an assemblage that organizes the social field. 
So, this is what an "academic genealogy of nuclear governmentality" might look like.

I'm really interested in the interdependencies across nuclear weapons, research on the biological effects of atomic radiation, and atomic medicine because these seemingly disparate fields were in fact inseparable beginning in the 1930s.

After the end of World War II, authorities involved in the Manhattan Project and in the newly established US Atomic Energy Commission (1946) chaired by David Lilienthal, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, agreed that wartime research on the biological effects of ionizing radiation would need to continue in the post-war environment to understand atomic weapons’ full killing potential.[i]

Manhattan Project medical director Safford Warren had before war’s end promoted extensive post-war biomedical research, an agenda that resonated with contractors eager to pursue wartime research on the human effects of ionizing radiation.[ii]

Research on the biological effects of ionizing radiation was regarded as “Urgent because effective defensive measures (in the military sense) against radiant energy are not yet known" concluded the 1947 Medical Board of Review commissioned by Lilienthal, which reported on the Atomic Energy Commission’s biomedical research program (

Among the most important research programs conducted on ionizing radiation in terms of its capacity to delimit the field of biological effects was the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission launched after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The history of the ABCC and its successor organization have been very thoroughly documented and I won't re-cap here beyond a few citations:
Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. Available Nasaonline,

Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission Report (1947). Appendix No. 6, written by James V. Neel addresses “The Question of the Genetic Effects of the Atomic Bomb”

Frank W. Putnam. 1998. The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in retrospect. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 May 12; 95(10): 5426–5431. PMCID: PMC33857

Sey Nishimura August 2009. Promoting Health in American-Occupied Japan: Resistance to Allied Public Health Measures, 1945-1952. American Journal of Public Health, 99.8, 1364-1375; S;

Susan Lindee (2016) Survivors and scientists: Hiroshima, Fukushima, and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, 1975–2014. Social Studies of Science 2016, Vol. 46(2) 184–209. DOI: 10.1177/0306312716632933 

Yet, despite the breadth of information, there is something missing from the historical account. What is missing from the historical account is war-time research on radiation effects. 

The best information available about the US radiation experiments is probably encoded in the Adivisory Committee for Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) report outlined here, which covers experiments conducted from 1944 to 1974: (The best active link for final report is here).

I also recommend Eileen Welsome's book on radiation experimentation, The Plutonium Files. Her work demonstrates that US government and corporate authorities worked together to understand radiation's weapons' potential (see also Paul Langley's work here). You can learn more in this YouTube Interview:

The CIA destroyed cold war files on medical experimentation with radiation in the 1970s:
Patrick Cockburn. (1994, Janaury 5). CIA 'destroyed files on radiation victims': The public may never know full details of secret experiments on Americans during the Cold War. The Independent,
War time research on radiation's biological effects appears to be highly sensitive information. Now why is that?

And why is it that I can find no information at all about similar wartime radiation research on biological effects by Japan?

Japanese scientists were quite knowledgeable about radiation prior to WW II and understood its weapons potential. They were investigating the biological effects of radiation prior to World War II under the leadership of Dr. Yoshio Nishina, described as the “father” of modern physics in Japan (p. 142). See Kim, Dong-Won. (2007). Yoshino Nishina. Father of modern physics on Japan. New York: Taylor and Francis.

After World War II, Japanese scientists began their own research on the effects of the bombs until they were censored by American authorities. Some of their findings were eventually included in the ABCC report, but their contributions were selectively incorporated.

These assertions are well supported by the official record of formal organizational reports, media coverage from the period, and academic analyses.

So, I expected to have no trouble digging up some findings using a combination of Google and JSTOR search platforms on Japan's wartime radiation experimentation.

Surprise, surprise. I cannot find any accounts of Japanese wartime research on the biological effects of radiation, although there are many, many detailed accounts of hideous biological research of many forms of invention.

The dearth of accounts of Japanese wartime research on the biological effects of radiation is interesting. Japan had an atomic weapons program during the War.  Why would scientists, under the influence of Japan's founding modern physicist, discontinue radiation research on biological effects during the war when all other manner of weaponized biological effects were researched and the country was trying to build an atomic bomb?

I may have missed some vital cache of information on the subject so I'll keep searching but governmentality also requires that analysts address what is missing from the official record, the strange occlusions or inconsistencies in the official records of events that are easily glossed over or dismissed when they may reveal the most deeply embedded relations of power...

[i] This discussion is derived from the findings of the ACHRE report, The Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments established January 15, 1994 by US President Bill Clinton to investigate and report on the use of human beings as subjects of federally funded research using ionizing radiation. The ACHRE report is annotated in the NSA Archive here: but the link to the final report at the Department of Energy is no longer active. Therefore, references to information gleaned from the ACHRE report are sourced from the text made available by Georgetown University here:, accessed August 1, 2016.
[ii] Endnote 34 from the ACHRE report: “The program expanded from the base of Manhattan Project research sites such as Oak Ridge, Hanford, Chicago, and the Universities of California, Chicago, and Rochester to take in a growing portion of the university research establishment. The minutes of the January 1947 meeting record an ambitious program to focus on the physical measurement of radiation, the biological effects of radiation, methods for the detection of radiation damage, methods for the prevention of radiation injury, and protective measures. There followed an itemized list of the work to be done at Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos, Monsanto, Columbia University, and the Universities of Michigan, Rochester, Tennessee, California, and Virginia. The University of Rochester was to be the largest university contractor, receiving more than $1 million, followed by the University of California (about one-half million for UCLA, where Stafford Warren was dean of the new medical school, and Berkeley, to which Stone had returned to join Hamilton), Western Reserve (to which Warren's deputy Hymer Friedell was headed), and Columbia (more than $100,000). Argonne received an amount comparable to Rochester; other labs, including Los Alamos National Laboratory and Clinton Laboratories (now Oak Ridge National Laboratory), were scheduled for $200,000 or less. Stafford Warren, Interim Medical Committee, proceedings of 23-24 January 1947 (ACHRE No. UCLA-111094-A-26). See also ACHRE Briefing Book, vol. 3, tab F, document H. 

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