WASHINGTON — ENERGY Secretary Hazel O'Leary testified this week that no secret experiments on human subjects are currently being conducted by the Department of Energy. President Clinton plans to release a memorandum to other agencies ordering a stop to any experimentation on uninformed subjects until further review, Ms. O'Leary added.
``Over the past two months, we've seen a virtual avalanche of revelations describing secret radiation experiments...,'' said Senator John Glenn (D) of Ohio. Hearings on radiation experiments began on Tuesday before the Senate Government Affairs Committee. The experiments were conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission - the Department of Energy's predecessor - from the 1940s to 1970s and involved uniformed subjects.
In December, O'Leary released previously classified information about secret nuclear tests and acknowledged radiation experiments that had taken place without the informed consent of participants. An estimated 600 to 800 subjects are believed to have been affected, O'Leary confirms. Former Secretary of Energy John Herrington considered the issue `` `simply not on our radar screen,' '' O'Leary says.
``...It is clearly on our radar screen, and I believe it should have been on theirs,'' she says. The Clinton administration, which plans to disclose all records of questionable experiments involving ionizing radiation on humans, formed a Human Radiation Interagency Working Group last week to address the issue.
The intense public outcry has been a response to ``these experiments on those ... who are least able to protect themselves with a government that one would expect to accord the highest level of protection,'' O'Leary says.
The job of piecing together records of the experiments is expected to take at least a year. At this week's hearings, many questions were left unanswered because of lack of centralized information, as many of the experiments were carried out by private contractors. ``Understand that there is no central index which indicates what experiments were done for what purposes when,'' said Tara O'Toole, assistant secretary for environment, safety, and health at the Department of Energy.
It is not yet clear how those affected will be compensated. A legal issues subcommittee is currently reviewing compensation given to ``downwinders'' (people indirectly exposed to nuclear testing), veterans exposed to radiation, and Japanese-Americans interned in the US during World War II. An interim report from the Interagency Working Group is expected within six months.