World Wakes Up to Horrific Scientific History

ByABC News
June 7, 2001, 4:03 PM

June 7 -- Half a century after secret studies on the effects of radioactive fallout were carried out in the United States and Britain, the world is waking up to the "body snatching" of the 1950s.

Called "Project Sunshine," studies conducted on dead babies sought to measure the amount of radioactive strontium-90 being absorbed by humans due to nuclear testing.

On Tuesday, the Australian Ministry for Health and Aged Care launched an investigation into reports of Australian baby samples being dispatched for Project Sunshine without the parents' permission.

"We need to verify if Australian babies were used in this manner, how many, and from where they came," said a spokesman for Australian Health Minister Michael Wooldridge.

The investigation was launched days after a British newspaper reported that British scientists obtained children's bodies from various hospitals and shipped their bones and other body parts to the United States for classified nuclear experiments.

Oceans away in Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997, the newspaper report set off a furor, prompting authorities to launch an inquiry on Wednesday.

'Serving Their Country'

More than 1,500 cadavers many of them babies were gathered from half a dozen countries from Europe to Australia in the 1950s for the studies on the effects of radiation conducted by the now defunct Atomic Energy Commission, according to U.S. government documents.

Project Sunshine, which was conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, attempted to study the absorption of strontium-90 in human tissue, primarily bone.

In June 1995, a presidential Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, set up by former President Clinton released classified documents from the Atomic Energy Commission, which showed that scientists working on Project Sunshine were aware of the dubious ethical and legal grounds on which their research was being conducted.