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OFFICERS URGED ARMY TO TELL OF RADIATION TESTS

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New documents show some officers pushed hard to publicize Utah radiological weapons tests before they began in 1949 - but the Army chose to keep them secret for four decades.

However, officers seeking to announce the tests wanted to use misleading information to calm Utahns and the press, who they figured were bound to find out about them sooner or later anyway.That's according to formerly secret documents released Friday at the request of the Deseret News by the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, formed by President Clinton to study the ethics of Cold War radiation experiments.

They come a day after other documents declassified by the National Archives showed that concern by a panel of scientists over citizen safety once almost stopped the tests.

Among those scientists, who were finally persuaded to support the tests, was former University of Utah President Albert R. Olpin. He then urged secrecy and caution to keep Utahns from even accidentally discovering the program.

Before the tests began in October 1949 - and scattered radioactive dust to Utah winds for four years - several officers suggested announcing them publicly but were rejected.

The Army's Committee on Atomic Energy considered pushing for such an announcement but decided against it in May 1949.

Weeks later, the Military Liaison Committee and the Army's General Advisory Council also considered and rejected it.

In August 1949, Dr. Joseph G. Hamilton, the civilian chairman of a group reviewing the safety of the tests at Dugway, also asked the Army Chemical Corps to announce the tests.

Col. Marshall Stubbs, chief of the corps' Special Projects Office, wrote him on Aug. 30, 1949, saying the corps' commanders had decided "such a release is not desirable."

But he also sent Hamilton a copy of a press release prepared and "ready at all times, so that in case it is necessary to make publication, we will have one ready."

That press release for use in case someone discovered the tests contained some misleading information.

For example, it said the tests were for defensive purposes - such as learning how to clean areas contaminated by enemies. However in reality, the lion's share of tests were to develop offensive bombs to scatter radiation.

"Realistic decontamination should be tried out in a variety of ways on specially constructed and contaminated targets," the unused press release said. "The work planned by the Army to determine a proper defense against this type of warfare involves the distribution of small amounts of radioactive materials."

Those "small" amounts talked of even at that early stage included hopes of within years testing weapons that could spread from high-altitude aircraft 1 million curies - a huge amount of radiation.

Other documents have said the largest test that likely actually occurred at Dugway spread 100,000 curies, or 6,667 times more radiation than was released at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident.

One last attempt for a public announcement was made on Oct. 3, 1949, by Col. William M. Creasy, chief of the Chemical Research and Engineering Division, who would later head the Army Chemical Corps.

In a secret memo, he sent a copy of the unused press release to the Army's director of logistics and urged its immediate use.

"A properly worded statement by the Department of the Army seems preferable to the sometimes irresponsible scare stories emanating from poorly informed reporters," Creasy wrote.

"A peacetime operation of this type will probably draw public notice sooner or later regardless of the security measures adopted," he added.

"The territory being used for the tests is being surveyed continually by prospectors for radioactive ore, so that an unusual amount of radioactivity found by such prospectors would certainly draw attention to the area," he said - in a warning similar to one Olpin also made earlier.

But Olpin, other documents show, had urged the Army to keep prospectors far from test areas to prevent accidental discovery that would be detrimental to the program.

Creasy's request was also rejected. And Robert LeBaron, chairman of a military Atomic Energy Committee, wrote on Jan. 19, 1950, that a panel was trying to formulate policy on public press releases about unconventional warfare.

"Until such time as this policy matter is resolved it is considered inadvisable to release information on radiological warfare," he wrote.

Such tests remained secret until last year, when congressional probers discovered some of them. Piecemeal revelations since then by government researchers and the Deseret News have shown at least 74 such tests occurred at Dugway from 1949 to 1953.