Elements of Controversy: The Atomic Energy Commission and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1947-1974

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University of California Press, 1994 - Science - 614 pages
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Unforgettable congressional hearings in 1978 revealed that fallout from American nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s had overexposed hundreds of soldiers and other citizens to radiation. Faith in governmental integrity was shaken, and many people have assumed that such overexposure caused great damage.
Yet important questions remain--the most controversial being: did the radiation overexposure in fact cause the cancers and birth defects for which it has been blamed?
Elements of Controversy is the result of a decade of exhaustive research in AEC documentary records and the full clinical and epidemiological literature on radiation effects. More concerned with uncovering the historical story than with assigning blame, Barton Hacker concludes that every precaution was taken by the AEC to avoid harming test participants or bystanders. And, he points out, the biomedical literature suggests that these precautions worked.
Yet top officials in Washington--for whom the success of nuclear weapons was of overriding importance--had asserted that testing involved no risks at all. Discrepancies between unverifiable government claims and the revelations that some actual risk was present explain the origins and angry persistence of the controversies, Hacker argues.
The Department of Energy delayed publication of Hacker's study for five years, and while his controversial book is sure to draw objections from both sides of the radiation-hazard debates, it will provide a much-needed guide to understanding their polemics. Unforgettable congressional hearings in 1978 revealed that fallout from American nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s had overexposed hundreds of soldiers and other citizens to radiation. Faith in governmental integrity was shaken, and many people have assumed that such overexposure caused great damage.
Yet important questions remain--the most controversial being: did the radiation overexposure in fact cause the cancers and birth defects for which it has been blamed?
Elements of Controversy is the result of a decade of exhaustive research in AEC documentary records and the full clinical and epidemiological literature on radiation effects. More concerned with uncovering the historical story than with assigning blame, Barton Hacker concludes that every precaution was taken by the AEC to avoid harming test participants or bystanders. And, he points out, the biomedical literature suggests that these precautions worked.
Yet top officials in Washington--for whom the success of nuclear weapons was of overriding importance--had asserted that testing involved no risks at all. Discrepancies between unverifiable government claims and the revelations that some actual risk was present explain the origins and angry persistence of the controversies, Hacker argues.
The Department of Energy delayed publication of Hacker's study for five years, and while his controversial book is sure to draw objections from both sides of the radiation-hazard debates, it will provide a much-needed guide to understanding their polemics.
  

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About the author (1994)

Barton C. Hacker is Laboratory Historian at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and author of The Dragon's Tail: Radiation Safety in the Manhattan Project, 1942-1946 (California, 1987).

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