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Stillborn babies snatched for nuclear tests

Atomic tests

By CNN's Kirsty Alfredson

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Dead babies were snatched and used in nuclear tests during the 1950s and 1960s, an American university spokesman has confirmed.

The relevation comes in the wake of a controversy that has gripped Britain, Australia and Hong Kong and sparked government inquiries.


The University of Chicago's Larry Arbeiter confirms the radioactivity tests to CNN

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Media reports have said 6,000 dead babies were snatched from hospitals in Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, the United States and South America for over 15 years without parental consent, and shipped to America for atomic tests.

"Project Sunshine," the reports said, began in 1955 when University of Chicago doctor Willard Libby, who was awarded a Nobel prize for his research into carbon dating, appealed for bodies, preferably stillborn or newly-born babies, to test atomic bomb fallout.

Radioactive fallout

University of Chicago's director of communications, Larry Arbeiter, told CNN the tests were carried out because of concern about radioactive fallout at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were nuclear testing "almost weekly."

"The first thing people should know is that no experiments were done on any person despite the headlines they are reading, rather measurements were made of the radioactivity in remains of deceased persons," Arbeiter said.

"It was a very important study because it helped lead to the partial test ban treaty of 1963 which prohibited above nuclear ground testing," he said, adding that this story has been public for forty years and resurfaces every five to ten years.

Arbeiter told CNN that such tests would require parental consent today, but it was not common practice in the 1950s.

"The difference here is that they were cremated at a hospital with a sophisticated laboratory and measured (for) radiation and then disposed of," he said.

"So the only distinction is that rather than being cremated locally, they were cremated in at the laboratories in Chicago and a few other places and disposed of in much the same way."


But the reports have sparked an outcry in Australia and Hong Kong, where some government officials have said they were not aware of the tests.

Australian Federal Health Minister, Dr. Michael Wooldridge, has requested information on the alleged operations.

On Tuesday Australian State governments announced they would look into the reports.

Further north in Hong Kong, the government is looking into the allegations raised by British newspapers over the weekend, which said the bodies of deceased children were used by the U.S. Department of Energy "for classified nuclear experiments."

"We will look into the claims," a government spokeswoman told Reuters. "These claims date back to half a century ago and we'll need to make checks within the government."

The Observer report quotes newly declassified documents from the American Department of Energy, including one document relating to a secret meeting in Washington where Libby instructed colleagues to skirt the law in their search for bodies.

An investigation into the "body snatching" ordered by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, was scathing, saying that researchers were "deceptive," the report added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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