During the 1950s, the Army and the Marines risked higher and higher radiation exposure for troops at atomic tests while trying to duplicate realistic nuclear battlefield conditions for training exercises according to a Pentagon report delivered last week to the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.
In the process of creating their own nuclear war games at the Nevada test site the services - according to the report - took over from the Atomic Energy Commission the responsibility for setting and monitoring radiation exposure levels for the troops. In at least one year 1956, the Army's allowable dose at the Nevada test site was six rads.Three rads was the national permissible level.
By 1957 the Army wanted to be able to run its own nuclear shots with its own weapons on its own test site, the report says.
The report is a summary of final reports of operations for all nuclear tests where troops were involved from 1951 to 1957. It also shows that Smoky, the controversial 44-kiloton shot, was only one of several tests where some military participants were exposed to excessive radiation.
Two people in 1955 tests were reported receiving radiation greater than 20 rads. But the Army today doesn't know who those soldiers were.
Last week, officials of the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control disclosed in House Health Subcommittee hearings on Smoky that at least eight of the 2,235 soldiers at that 1957 exercise subsequently developed leukemia.
Leukemia, a cancer of the blood, is normally associated with high-level radiation exposure.
The subcommittee is investigating whether low-level radiation - such as received by soldiers during the 1950s troop tests - could be associated with their developing leukemia and other cancers 10 to 20 years after their exposure.
Information in the Pentagon report, subcommittee sources say, now requires that the investigation cover not only Smoky but all the 1950s tests in which troops were involved.
The Pentagon report traces the military services' dissatisfaction with the AEC's control over their troop tests back to the first one, held Nov. 1. 1951.
On that occasion, an 883-man battalion combat team moved to within 500 yards of ground zero after observing a 21 kiloton shot from seven miles away.
The AEC directed both the test and the troops' radiation exposure standard. For that test the allowable dose was set at one rad - about the dose an individual would expect from a dental X-ray.
When the Army columns moved forward, they went in single lines with an AEC monitor at the head. Each soldier wore a film badge to record his individual dose.
In an after-action report, however, an Army contractor voiced a complaint echoed by Army commanders at the site: "Under restrictions set by the [AEC], it was difficult to make the maneuver realistic."
From 1951 on, the Pentagon report says, "there occurred a shift in radiation safety responsibilities from the AEC to the service troop unit commanders."
By 1952, when the next troop tests took place at the test site. Army monitors led the way into the contaminated shot area after detonation of a 31-kiloton device. This time the troops were in trenches, 7,000 yards from ground zero.
One hour after the shot, a company of airborne infantry parchuted into the area and marched to within 175 yards of ground zero.
For the 1953 tests, according to the report, "the U.S. Army was given complete responsibility for radiological safety of participating military personnel."
The troops, under Army control, were permitted to march "toward and around ground zero without restriction" as long as it did not interfere with AEC test equipment.
Problems developed in several of that year's tests, according to the Pentagon paper.
On the first 1953 shot, a 16-kiloton device, the Army radiation monitors "advanced too far forward of the troop body" in the dust after the shot.
On shot Nancy, the next test, the difficulties were far greater. The troops watched the 24-kiloton shot from trenches 4,000 yards away.
"A wind shift blew the radioactive cloud over the trenches," according to the report. The resultant dose, some two-tenths of a rad, was considered too low to halt the exercise.
Thus, three minutes after detomation, the battalion combat team launched its attack to move within 700 yards of ground zero.
"There was heavy fallout in the maneuver area," according to the report. This time a reading of 14 rads per hour was noted, "at some unknown point."
To compound the problem, the Army radiation monitors, according to the report, went into the contaminate area without giving their readings to the commanders.
Radiation safety officers finally ordered the troops to halt but, says the report, "commanders experienced difficulty in withdrawing their forces."
To make matters worse, under the Army control, film badges were only allocated one per platoon. The limitation was traced to the fact that "the film dosimetry section could not keep up with the workload."
The next shot, Badger, on April 18, 1953, had similar difficulties.
This was essentially a Marine Corps exercise after detonation of a 23-kiloton shot.
The Mariners were in two trench lines, 4,000 yards from ground zero. Again a wind came up after detonation and blew fallout over one trench section.
An entire battalion was immediately taken out of action after is radiation devices measured six rads, twice the then allowable dosage.
It did not violate the military standard, however, since for these tests the Army had established six rads as "a maximum permissible dosage."
In the 1955 tests, Army and Marine troops were placed in trenchces closer to shots than they had been before.
Again, not every GI was given a film badge. Yet, according to the report, overexposures were reported, including "two persons greater than 20 rads. "In addition, there were 15 with six to 20 rads, and 97 between three and six rads.
The next major troop tests took place in 1957 and included Smoky.
According to the Pentagon report, "a most significant reason for conducting this test was to demonstrate to the public the ability of the Army to operate on the nuclear battlefield."
In a report after the test, one Army general criticized the Nevada troop operations for being "tailored in the form of a demonstration for observers and the press."
As an example of how the public relations part interfered with the exercise, the report notes that three patrols were in the contaminated area when the Smoky exercise was halted because the radiation safety limit had been reached.
Helicopters were sent in to take out the patrols, but the squads could not be located.
"These aircraft were diverted, "the report goes on, "to transport VIPs at the termination of the exercise."
The report notes there is no further word about how the patrols got out except to say if they remained in the area of ground zero, that might "account for the high exposures" on some Smoky film badges. An individual's exposure dose rises the longer he stays in a contaiminated area.
After Smoky, Army officers were still not satisfied with operations at the AEC-run Nevada test site. They wanted to fire their own tests at their own facilities.
Training and troop tests," wrote one Army report after Smoky, "should involve the actual employment of low-yield atomic weapons delivered by tactical means under the control of and at the will of the commander."
Such a situation never took place. Atmospheric testing was concluded before such a situation developed.
Now, 20 years later, the author of the Army report points out the deficiencies of the past test program, the failure of keeping records and even which test seem to require medical follow-up for participants.
"A priority efforts," the report says, on a "follow-up program" should go to veterans of Nancy, the 1953 shot where fallout went over the trenches.
And referring to the Marine's Badger exercise that same year, the report states: "As with Nancy, the shot has considerable potential for overexposures."
The Army, for a year, had only one major working 25 percent of his time trying to locate the men who participated in Smoky.
On Thursday, in response to pressure from Rep. Paul G. Rogers (D-Fla.), chairman of the House subcommittee, a Pentagon task force decided to increase the effort substantially.