DOE Shield DOE Openness: Human Radiation Experiments: Roadmap to the Project
Oral Histories
Roadmap to the Project
HomeRoadmapWhat's NewMultimediaRelated SitesFeedback

Previous page Table of Contents
Oral Histories

Health Physicist Karl Z. Morgan, Ph.D.


Short Biography

College and Graduate School in North Carolina; Unintentionally Joining the Manhattan Project in Chicago in 1943

Chosen for the New Field of Health Physics (1943)

Determining Safe Doses for Ionizing Radiation at Chicago (1943)

Developing New Dosimetry Instrumentation

Arrival at Oak Ridge (1943)

Creating a Health Physics Division (1943–44)

Concern for the Radiological Safety of Workers and the Nearby Public

Participation in Human Erythema Dose Studies, Using Phosphorus-32 (1943–44)

Human Research Protocols; Informed Consent

Plutonium Injection Studies at an Oak Ridge Military Hospital (1945)

Oak Ridge Committees (Isotope Distribution, Human Use, et al.)

Studies in Uranium Ingestion, Injection, and Inhalation

Struxness and Bernard Go to a Boston Hospital to Assist in Studies in Radioisotope Injection Toxicity (Mid-'50s)

Criticizes Therapy Practiced at ORNL's Total-Body Irradiation Facilities

Hidden Military Funding to Explore Radiological Warfare During the Cold War

Atmospheric Releases of Short-Lived Isotopes Over Grazing Pastures

Developing a Chemical Dissolving Process to Remove Iodine From the Irradiated Uranium Slugs

Plans Laid for Atmospheric Releases of Radioisotopes

Unintentionally Widespread Dispersion From Phosphorus-32 Atmospheric Releases

Influence of Secrecy in Decisions About Radiation Exposure

Advice for Disposing of Tritium Safety Rebuffed by NRC

Chairing the Public Health Fund (1980–92)

Vanderbilt University Study of Pregnant Women and Iron-59

Difficulty Obtaining Historical Information, Despite Freedom of Information Act

Studies on Nuclear Waste Storage Issues

Plans Laid for Atmospheric Releases of Radioisotopes

CAPUTO:We've learned that the main reason for the 1949 release of iodine at Hanford was that Russia had just exploded "Little Joe,"69 and the military wanted the means to figure how we, [the U.S.], could know what Russia was doing. We had to be able to analyze fallout to know what Russia [was up to], and that was the main purpose behind the Green Run.
MORGAN: Well, of course you don't take [to] court [what I'm saying] as fact. [I can't prove the Green Run was to find out the feasibility of using radionuclides as an adjunct to chemical warfare, but I have many reasons to consider this as fact].

I think they were planning this all along. Herb Parker might have been at Dugway when I was there, I don't know. He probably was. But I know there was great urgency to get the information I've just discussed. I know about what you just mentioned here, and that's, of course, what would be nice to release as a cause. I hope you won't take that as necessarily something that blots out what probably was the real fact.
YUFFEE: There was nothing similar to a Green Run at Oak Ridge? Was there a release of the same, not necessarily the same magnitude, but of the same type, at Oak Ridge?
MORGAN: Everybody was pretty cautious about putting anything in writing on this [touchy subject]. So, the last [court] case I testified in was [former Secretary of Interior, presently a practicing attorney, Stuart] Udall's case in Las Vegas. In the courtroom they had everything I'd written and all the reports, standing over 25 feet high; they had these long boxes, (spreads his hands, palms in) so long, (stretches out his arm, palm-down) so high. There were two [stacks of boxes] that went entirely to the ceiling of the things that I've written, of my reports[, publications, letters, etc.]. I was amazed at all I had written through the ages of the past.

Now, what is your question?
YUFFEE: The question is: Was there a Green Run type of release at Oak Ridge? We found some documents that suggest there might have been an intentional release [to the atmosphere] at Oak Ridge, but we're not sure, because of the way it was stated, if it actually was [only] a proposal.
MORGAN: I knew this was discussed with me and others, but [an actual release to the atmosphere—]not over my dead body! It was possible that Wigner or Weinberg might have [had such discussions and] Whittaker might have consented [to work toward this objective]. I knew [all the] parties [(Wigner, Weinberg, and Whittaker)] personally. I don't believe they would condescend to [an intentional release]. It would be condescending to carry out such a study using our own [people as guinea pigs]. In this case [at Hanford], when it wasn't our own—another nation of people, American Indians, as guinea pigs [made it even worse]. I know [that Biology Division director Alex] Hollaender would not, and I can say: I know Weinberg and Wigner would not. I know Weinberg personally and professionally, though we've fought over some issues in the early years. I knew Eugene—the late Eugene, who's being buried today or yesterday—very well, not just at the Laboratory but in many meetings and other discussions. I think I can say there'd be a 99.99 percent probability that they would not consent [to] or condone such a study in which the Laboratory had a major part.
YUFFEE: Moving away from the discussion of intentionally releases to rad warfare, in particular in the ARUU,70 you did studies in 1948, with radiolanthanum and tantalum in particular. Maybe you could talk a little bit about those.
MORGAN: I never had anything directly to do with radiolanthanum.
YUFFEE: What about with tantalum?
MORGAN: Only discussions; I never took part in any studies.
YUFFEE: Am I right in calling it the ARUU program? Was that what the name it?
MORGAN: That's what I recall.
YUFFEE: You didn't take part in it?
MORGAN: Only on pen and paper; maybe some reports and letters and discussions. In fact, since I have no recollection of taking direct part, maybe you could refresh my memory and what the main motive of that study was.
YUFFEE: That's actually what I was hoping to get at by talking to you.
MORGAN: I remember the code name and all. You see, we had hundreds of those codes, and it won't come back to [my memory banks].

Unintentionally Widespread Dispersion From Phosphorus-32 Atmospheric Releases

YUFFEE: But do you have any other recollection of rad warfare research or tests that were done?
MORGAN: Well, going into 32P and Bernard's work and Francis [Davis]'s. Francis is deceased, but if you are interested in the claims of many people, the sources put out to fly over. If you want to follow up on that and get the raw facts, you ought to talk to Paul Reindhart, who lives outside of Oak Ridge. I know, because he goes to the same church we go to. He used to be one of my students when I taught at Lenoir-Rhyne; I know him quite well. He could tell you details and all the early development of aerial surveys and anything that was done in Oak Ridge in that respect.

When I covered the Windscale accident, for example, there were two things that Greg Morley and others impressed on me, where they made mistakes. One was, they didn't have an information center where everybody could come [with a request for information]. The [radiation surveyors had no place to interface with] news reporters, and they didn't have TV then but radio reports, [no open area where] radiation surveyors could come and bring their data and collate and disperse it appropriately. They had to come into the controlled area to get information and disperse it.

The other thing was that, initially, when they had this fallout [in the United Kingdom, it was several days before they got their light aircraft airborne]. I could talk for hours on that accident. They put their Geiger counters against these five-gallon jugs [of milk to take readings]; you remember: [those jugs] came up with a little lip on top. [They] put their Geiger counters on the side [of the jug] and if you had too much [(too high a reading)] they'd pour the milk out on the ground [so no one would drink contaminated milk].

But [the British] found, three days later, when they got their light aircraft airborne, that the radius distance [in which the milk was excessively contaminated] should have been twice as large. The area would increase by a square [so the area of dangerous milk contamination was four times as diffuse].71 The mothers out there, justifiably, were frantic to hear, "My little baby has been drinking this contaminate milk! Contaminated, maybe, with strontium and cesium and iodine, and we weren't even told about it! Now, they're pouring all the milk out and will not let us get near the jugs that [held] the milk!"

So I brought [news of] this [miscalculation] back to Oak Ridge, and immediately we set up corrective measures. We set up an information center outside the control area. I had quite a number in my division [who] had private licenses [to pilot] small aircraft; I used to have one. I only flew about 80 hours solo. We [could] get our planes up in a half-hour [during our drills].

To show how stupid the AEC was, they should have taken my reports and reports from Windscale, and gotten [them] in the minds and the operations of all operators of [nuclear] reactors throughout the country. Even an order of magnitude more stupid than the DOE, even beyond the present regime, is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [(NRC)].72 I can't even think about them without thinking how deceitful, and dishonest they've been in some cases where I've been involved! I can prove that verbatim. Well, anyway, it's a shame that Three Mile Island operators did not know about [my reports and], did not take any of these measures. They made all of the mistakes that were made at Windscale. We corrected them at Oak Ridge. Why did not the AEC—why did not the NRC get out this information [about how to prevent a recurrence of the Windscale accident]? They could have prevented that accident [at Three Mile Island].

Influence of Secrecy in Decisions About Radiation Exposure

MORGAN: If I had time I could discuss another accident, potential accident. Almost identical to Three Mile Island; it just didn't happen. Luck was in their basket, or whatever it was. [There were] other cases where we came to very-near accidents. They could have been [catastrophic], [but] in most cases were completely avoided. In others, they got out by a hair. Windscale was tragic, and of course Three Mile Island was terrible, but they all could have been avoided except for Windscale, if they had gotten this information out. They didn't do it. They just sat on their hands.
CAPUTO: So the AEC tried to keep the veil of secrecy, the same as the states?
MORGAN: Secrecy is more important than the lives of our citizens! They tried to imbue that in some of us, and maybe, to a little extent, to some of my friends at Hanford. I was willing to lose my job at Oak Ridge [before risking unnecessary exposure to employees or members of the public]. I think as long as I was there, this attitude [of radiological caution] prevailed, and the workmen would not dare go on the job of any kind unless my Health Physics surveyors were there with their instruments. The workers trusted them almost as much as they did when they prayed to their Lord at night. They wouldn't dare dig this trench, or go near this pipe, or go down this ladder, or go into this area. If the yellow ribbons were around [an area], they would never go near that unless the health physicist was there with his appropriate instruments.

Advice for Disposing of Tritium Safely Rebuffed by NRC

This attitude [for radiation safety] did not prevail, apparently, at some other places. Certainly it did not at Three Mile Island. Since I left the faculty at Georgia Tech, I've testified in over a hundred-fifty cases, trying to help people that have allegedly been injured by radiation. We won the Karen Silkwood case and Crumbeck case, and I was a sole witness [for the plaintiff when] we won in the Three Mile Island class-action suit.

But in most other cases, the AEC and DOE [have] called—[what was] then the Department of Justice [(DOJ)]; let me call it the "Department of Injustice" [to make false claims about radiation exposure] under some of the people there. They [(the DOJ employees)] actually bragged about the fact that they set up courses to train health physicists and lawyers on how to keep injured parties, injured from radiation, from getting any benefits! One of these was even held in Washington. I didn't attend it, but I can point to some people that attended the lecture that [Don] Jose from the Justice Department gave. Imagine: the Department of Justice—which is supposed, according to our Constitution, to provide justice to the citizen—training lawyers and health physicists how to cheat the public! How to allow people to be used as guinea pigs rather than be a hindrance to some nuclear or military program!

I more recently have fought the NRC on the release of [radioactive] hydrogen [to the surrounding air]. All the people in the cities of Washington[, DC] and Philadelphia and Baltimore are guinea pigs, as you well know. I gave [the NRC] a letter [from me], showing how you can get rid of this tritium [that had contaminated the cooling water at Three Mile Island] in a safe manner.

But they used the most nefarious techniques to throw out my testimony, and they would not even hear it, until I went—at my own inconvenience—to Washington to testify. They accused me of being a crook when I sent the letter to them, showing these other ways that they could release this tritium from Three Mile Island in the water because there [was an unidentified summary attached to one of the enclosed references]. [There were] hundreds of thousands of curies of tritium; [my letter explained] how they could dispose of it, in a relatively benign manner.

But they didn't want to hear that. They would rather use you darned subjects in Washington and Philadelphia as guinea pigs. So they boiled [it away into the surrounding air], and you breathed it.

Tomorrow I have a visitor from the UK, and I'm sure I'll have other interruptions in writing my book. If people could wait and read my book, they'd get some of the facts that you'd like to have now, maybe.73

But anyway, I sent in my letter [to the NRC] showing these other ways you could dispose of the tritium without using humans as guinea pigs. It would be a little more expensive, a little more trouble, but the exposure would be almost zero. I also indicated, as I recall in the letter, why tritium is far more hazardous than was agreed-to officially when I was chairman of the committee74 that set the standards for tritium and other radionuclides for 20 years, you see. So I wasn't just talking out of the wind.

I sent this in, but I felt maybe I'd better send some backup information. So I grabbed, out of my library, a few folders and things and put them in a big envelope and sent them in. Inadvertently, one of these documents from the UK had a page on the back that summarized the document. It may have had some other information; but it wasn't supposed to be there. They accused me of being a crook, because this document had this [summary] attached [as] the last page! They didn't even go into any of [the scientific information I sent. They were very cruel and most hostile].

An advisor to the—I don't know his position, I guess the court recorder there, or maybe the second stage of lawyers they had—was Dr. [L.S.] Taylor, who had been chairman of NCRP for many years, who [now] is on the other side of the fence. He used to be a very close friend. I don't consider him an enemy now, but I disagree with him [vigorously] in his position. He was there advising them what to do—the only scientist there advising [what accusations to make]. But these twelve judges—who I [had] helped to select a year earlier, because I had been one of those to help select the judges of the NRC—they threw out my testimony and decided, "Well, it's a lot cheaper to use you [people downwind] as guinea pigs." I guess they're through [sending this tritium into the air]; they've completed their [guinea pig] study on you folks, if you were [living] there [in Washington, DC].

They saved a lot of money in this decision. Tritium can cause leukemia as well as solid tumors, and the leukemias come in early, some even beginning in five years, the midpoint about 15 years. Some dribble in even as late as 30 years; but [for] solid tumors, probably the midpoint on them is 30 [years].

Chairing the Public Health Fund (1980–92)

Having testified on the Three Mile Island case as the only witness [for the plaintiff], I was asked to be chairman of the Public Health Fund. You might want to get hold of some of their documents. The decision of Judge Rambo [in our favor] has added up, with interest, to over 15 million dollars, which were used for research [on the effects of low-level exposure to ionizing radiation].

I was asked to be chairman of the so-called Public Health Fund by the Berger law firm in Philadelphia.75 We worked on that for a period of over ten years, following the research and administering this money. The program of which I was most proud is that of Dr. Alice Stewart, who is a wonderful woman of high intellect and integrity, with great skill in epidemiology76 as well as medicine. She's done more extensive epidemiological work than any other person that's ever lived—living now or dead. A portion of our money [went to her research]; I think it's added up to about two million. She has independently studied the film badge records and carcinogenic77 rate, [as determined] from death certificates in this country [of former employees of the X-10, Y-12, and K-25 facilities of Oak Ridge and former employees of Hanford, Los Alamos, Savannah River, Rocky Flats, etc.].

I haven't heard anything from that committee [(the Public Health Fund Committee)] now for over two years; I think maybe I said the wrong thing at one of our last meetings, in which I said I was more interested in getting the facts than I was in getting the data to the judge. That doesn't go over very well with lawyers. Anyway, I think that independent studies were in order [for we found an excessive cancer risk at the so-called permissible exposure levels].

Of course, you know of the case where we spent ten years before we could get the raw data from the AEC or the Department of Energy. We finally got it. Freedom of Information78 would not work. Finally got it from testimony we brought in from a man [(Dr. Greg Wilkenson)] who worked at Los Alamos and then down in Texas. In the court hearing in Columbia, South Carolina, he pointed out that [when] he was working at Los Alamos studying the data from the Denver area, he found significant increase in cancers, [but] that he wasn't allowed to publish his data. I could look up in my notebook and get his name. That's one of the problems you've [mentioned] you run into, after you're 70 or 80 or approaching 90 years: you always remembered all the names of the millions of people and I can't think of his name at the moment.

Vanderbilt University Study of Pregnant Women and Iron-59 (1945–49)

YUFFEE: I have one question, a specific question that I probably should have asked you when we were back on this subject. So I'm going to go back a little bit. Do you remember a Dr. C.W. Shepherd?
MORGAN: Oh yes, I do, from Vanderbilt [University in Nashville, Tennessee]. I was for many years [associated] with [Dr.] Francis Slack, who was chairman of the Physics Department there. I was an adjunct professor there; I don't recall [for] how many years; I would guess at least a decade. So I knew him, and I knew [Paul F.] Hahn at the time; I knew a lot of others [there]. I remember those two, specifically.
YUFFEE: Were you familiar with the Vanderbilt study with pregnant women and iron-59?
MORGAN: I know Paul Aebersold was very interested; and Paul and Mickie, his wife, were good friends of my wife and me; we both belonged to two dance clubs. So I knew that they had a study using iron-55 and -59. I was somewhat appalled at the time, and I think even Paul was a bit worried that they were using the, I guess it's the -59 that is the more dangerous one you should not use. I even then made calculations showing—well, I'm sure I did, because I made hundreds and hundreds of thousands of calculation on the different radionuclides. The risk in the shorter-lived radioisotope [(iron-59)] was more hazardous than the longer-lived one.79 I won't go into the forty or fifty reasons why [but mostly because of a much higher energy emission per disintegration]. That meant that you should not use reactor-produced radioactive iron. That is, you should not put stable iron in the reactor, and cook it up with neutrons to make these two isotopes, and use a chemical extractive of this for any studies of blood or anything else [with humans].

My impression—from casual comments of Paul Aebersold—was, I'm afraid, that Hahn, Shephard, and the others there, whom I can't recall, used some reactor-produced iron, which was a terrible choice. Why would you knowingly give doses more than [10 times than necessary in a human study? This should have been of great concern] when you're giving doses that were right at the occupational level and it would go to the fetus, and we all knew the placental barrier would not take out iron? In fact, you wouldn't have a fetus if it did. Here we were, exposing man [as a fetus] at the most critical stage [of his development]. We already knew that the fetus was more critical a human being than I was, Hahn, or Paul Aebersold, and here they didn't even bother, apparently, to cook up in special preparation in a reactor and pay a few, maybe twenty or fifty thousand dollars, for their material rather than get it free from Oak Ridge or wherever they got it.
YUFFEE: That was my question: Do you know where they would have gotten it?
MORGAN: No, I don't. Paul, I'm sure, had detailed records. [But I was always under the impression it was gotten from Oak Ridge].

Difficulty Obtaining Historical Information, Despite Freedom of Information Act

MORGAN: When I was at Oak Ridge, there was constant pressure to shred data, especially the film badge data, but I fought against it. If you go there now and you have the same luck I had—I have to go through two locked doors to get to a librarian, who doesn't know where anything is, to help me find reports that I wrote that weren't classified, that I sent out [all over the world] to hundreds of people back in that period.

This is Martin Marietta80 that your agency is supporting, supposedly to help the public. They have offices there for other people that worked there. When I left Oak Ridge [as a Federal retiree], I did not get an offer of as much as a dollar a year for a job [at ORNL, as some of the retirees did, because I was never a yes-man]. I would not have accepted, had I [received such an offer, but did not have the pleasure of turning it down]. I had offers of jobs in Washington and other [similar] places. I did not want to get into that den of thieves. I wanted to be in the South; furthermore, I wanted to do research [and teach again in a university].

I ended up at Georgia Tech. Maybe that was a bad choice. I had offers at my former school, [University of] North Carolina; I wish, in retrospect, that I'd gone there. I think it became a decision of Nuclear Power [versus] The Health of People—and Carolina would have been a much better choice than Georgia Tech, who wants to please Coca Cola and the nuclear industry.

I've given a black eye here—you'd better tell your director [(Energy Secretary O'Leary)] to watch out, because I can name four women that have been killed since they took strong positions against nuclear power, beginning with Karen Silkwood, and I testified in her case. It's very dangerous for—especially a woman, for some reason. You'd better be careful. I don't know why they pick on women.81
CAPUTO: (smiling) We [(women)] must learn more [of their secrets]—we're more dangerous.
MORGAN: I doubt she (Secretary O'Leary) could live through this (inaudible) Administration because some of the old (inaudible) are back in the establishment.
YUFFEE: I don't have any more specific questions.
CAPUTO: Neither do I.

Have we missed something? Is there a question we should have asked you?
MORGAN: I don't know quite what you have in mind. As I say, I don't want to give you everything that will go in the book [I am writing jointly with my lawyer friend Ken M. Peterson of Wichita, Kansas].
CAPUTO: What's your book about?
MORGAN: It's about the early history of health physics. But, as I said, I have to depend on my memory, mostly, and my library, which is incomplete, because Martin Marietta won't allow me free access in the Laboratory, [a privilege they extend] to scores of other former employees. They are afraid of me because they think I'm against nuclear energy, I guess.

I'm not against nuclear energy; I'm for a long-range study [of nuclear energy]. I just think that Admiral Rickover82 was just too successful, and we land-based his PWR83 too soon. We should have done at least thirty more years' research before we built reactors on land, and certainly within 50 miles of big cities like New York and Philadelphia. I testified against the one near New York,84 as you probably have found out. So, though your director has asked for free access to information, Martin Marietta hasn't come through. I don't know whether GE and Westinghouse and the others85 have done so [at other DOE operations]; I doubt it.

If a peon like [me,] someone way down the line like I've always been, someone that has a lot of facts about what actually went on, [can't get in], I doubt if they would let [you] into these facilities. Even though [I] may still be for nuclear power [it's in the hope and confidence nuclear power will eventually find its proper place on planet earth as it has in the rest of the universe]. When I say "I'm for nuclear power," I'm for research for getting rid of some of those bugs [that have caused its failure].

Studies on Nuclear Waste Storage Issues

MORGAN: When I was director [of the Health Physics Division of] Oak Ridge [National Laboratory], we did all the advanced research on high-level waste disposal. We did the studies in the salt mines in Kansas. We developed big machines to carry the sources in [and out of the mines], and we looked into the Wigner effect,86 the storage of energy by the electrons and the positive ions [in energy] levels in the salt. These are what caused the accident, as I said earlier, at Windscale and [contributed to the] Three Mile Island [accident]; and we looked into the transport of moisture in different chemical forms going through the salt and lots of things [of this nature]. I think the Swedes have made a little more progress, since that time, with storage [of high-level nuclear waste] in granite.87

But when they talk about encasing it in gold, I balk. Not because the gold isn't worth anything compared to the problem. The problem is, in storing, we had to always think about, "What's the value of this?" Would people a thousand years from now inadvertently go into this and try to retrieve that gold or silver or whatever you encase it in? [If so,] you can't dare use it.

Or you can['t] put [it] in some [geological] formation that itself will be of great value. Well, salt, certainly sodium-chloride–type salt,88 is of essentially no value. I can set up a factory out here and have the means to get enough salt to supply the world for all time from the Gulf of Mexico. But there are cheaper ways of getting it than getting out of the ocean, though it's done commercially [that way] in many places.

So, [at] Oak Ridge, the whole time I was there, there was pressure on the engineers to move all engineering studies out of [the] Health Physics [Division]. We had some of the best engineers, the best physicists[, etc.,] in the Laboratory. I think [Sam] Hurst and [Rufus] Richie both have recently graduated from there. They should have Nobel prizes for things they've done sponsored by the Department of Energy. So it [(DOE)] has done some good things in the past.

Anyway, all the time we were there, there was tremendous pressure from the Chemical Technology Division to take that away, because "Health Physics has no business doing this." Immediately when I left, things changed; shortly after Weinberg left, [conditions at ORNL deteriorated even more]. Of course, studies [on high-level waste disposal] were taken over by the engineers, and—surprise!—now they've discovered the wheel. Look at the progress they've made. So it goes.