The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War

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9780385314022: The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War

When the vast wartime factories of the Manhattan Project began producing plutonium in quantities never before seen on earth, scientists working on the  top-secret bomb-building program grew apprehensive. Fearful that plutonium  might cause a cancer epidemic among workers and desperate to learn more about what it could do to the human body, the Manhattan Project's medical doctors embarked upon an experiment in which eighteen unsuspecting patients in  hospital wards throughout the country were secretly injected with the cancer-causing substance. Most of these patients would go to their graves without ever knowing what had been done to them.

Now, in The Plutonium Files, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eileen Welsome reveals for the first time the breadth of the extraordinary fifty-year cover-up surrounding the plutonium injections, as well as the deceitful nature of thousands of other experiments conducted on American citizens in the postwar years.

Welsome's remarkable investigation spans the 1930s to the 1990s and draws upon hundreds of newly declassified documents and other primary sources to disclose this shadowy chapter in American history. She gives a voice to such innocents as Helen Hutchison, a young woman who entered a prenatal clinic in Nashville for a routine checkup and was instead given a radioactive "cocktail" to drink; Gordon Shattuck, one of several boys at a state school for the developmentally disabled in Massachusetts who was fed radioactive oatmeal for breakfast; and Maude Jacobs, a Cincinnati woman suffering from cancer and subjected to an experimental radiation treatment designed to help military planners learn how to win a nuclear war.

Welsome also tells the stories of the scientists themselves, many of whom learned the ways of secrecy on the Manhattan Project. Among them are Stafford Warren, a grand figure whose bravado masked a cunning intelligence; Joseph Hamilton, who felt he was immune to the dangers of radiation only to suffer later from a fatal leukemia; and physician Louis Hempelmann, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the plan to inject humans with potentially carcinogenic doses of plutonium. Hidden discussions of fifty years past are reconstructed here, wherein trusted government officials debated the ethical and legal implications of the experiments, demolishing forever the argument that these studies took place in a less enlightened era.

Powered by her groundbreaking reportage and singular narrative gifts, Eileen Welsome has created a work of profound humanity as well as major historical significance.

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Review:

As World War II reached its climax, the U.S. push to create an atomic bomb spawned an industry the size of General Motors almost overnight. But a little-understood human dilemma quickly arose: How was all the radiation involved in building and testing the bomb going to affect the countless researchers, soldiers, and civilians exposed to it? Government scientists scrambled to find out, fearing cancer outbreaks and worse, but in their urgency conducted classified experiments that bordered on the horrific: MIT researchers fed radioactive oatmeal to residents of a state boys' school outside Boston; prisoners in Washington and Oregon were subjected to crippling blasts of direct radiation; and patients with terminal illnesses (or so it was hoped) were secretly injected with large doses of plutonium--survivors were surreptitiously monitored for years afterward.

It was these plutonium guinea pigs that set journalist Eileen Welsome on her decade-long search to expose this grisly chapter of America's atomic age, a feat that would earn her the Pulitzer Prize. In the impressively thorough and compelling Plutonium Files, Welsome recounts her work with a reporter's gift for description, characterizing early radiation researchers as "a curious blend of spook, scientist, and soldier," tirelessly interviewing survivors and their families, and providing social and political context for a complex and far-reaching scandal. Perhaps most damning is that not only did these cold-war experiments violate everything from the Hippocratic Oath to the Nuremberg Code, Welsome reveals, they were often ill-conceived, inconclusive, and repetitive--"they were not just immoral science, they were bad science." --Paul Hughes

From the Inside Flap:

In a Massachusetts school, seventy-three disabled children were spoon fed radioactive isotopes along with their morning oatmeal....In an upstate New York hospital, an eighteen-year-old woman, believing she was being treated for a pituitary disorder, was injected with plutonium by Manhattan Project doctors....At a Tennessee prenatal clinic, 829 pregnant women were served "vitamin cocktails"--in truth, drinks containing radioactive iron--as part of their prenatal treatmen....

In 1945, the seismic power of atomic energy was already well known to researchers, but the effects of radiation on human beings were not. Fearful that plutonium would cause a cancer epidemic among workers, Manhattan Project doctors embarked on a human experiment that was as chilling as it was closely guarded: the systematic injection of unsuspecting Americans with radioactive plutonium. In this shocking exposé, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Eileen Welsome reveals the unspeakable scientific trials that reduced thousands of American men, women, and even children to nameless specimens with silvery radioactive metal circulating in their veins. Spanning the 1930s to the 1990s, filled with hundreds of newly declassified documents and firsthand interviews, The Plutonium Files traces the behind-the-scenes story of an extraordinary fifty-year cover-up. It illuminates a shadowy chapter in this country's history and gives eloquent voice to the men and women who paid for our atomic energy discoveries with their health--and sometimes their lives.

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Welsome, Eileen
Editorial: The Dial Press (1999)
ISBN 10: 0385314027 ISBN 13: 9780385314022
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Welsome, Eileen
Editorial: The Dial Press (1999)
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Eileen Welsome
Editorial: The Dial Press (1999)
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Descripción The Dial Press, 1999. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. book. Nº de ref. de la librería 0385314027

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Eileen Welsome
Editorial: The Dial Press (1999)
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