Harold McCluskey becomes the Atomic Man at Hanford on August 30, 1976.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 4/23/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5692
On August 30, 1976, Harold McCluskey, a chemical operator at the Hanford nuclear weapons plant, becomes "The Atomic Man" when he survives accidental radiological contamination. McCluskey becomes so radioactive that he has to be kept in a steel and concrete isolation tank for five months to avoid exposing others. It is the highest dose of radiation known to a human who survived.

Prosser resident McCluskey was a 64-year-old chemical operator employed by Atlantic Richfield Hanford Co. in the Plutonium Finishing Plant, called Z Plant. He was working at a glove box when a chemical reaction resulted in an explosion. The explosion shattered the glass box and he was showered with nitric acid and radioactive materials and he was blinded and cut. He inhaled approximately 500 times the occupational standard for americium 241, a plutonium byproduct. Other workers who rendered assistance were also contaminated.

Normally, humans exposed to that level of radiation die. Dr. Bryce Breitenstein placed McCluskey in a special isolation unit and  treated him there for five months. Dr. Breitenstein administered an experimental drug which flushed 80 percent of the contamination out of McCluskey's system. McCluskey survived and retired. He received a settlement of $275,000 plus medical care for life. The Atomic Man died in 1987.


Sources: Elouise Schumacher, "Harold McCluskey, Who Survived N-Contamination Accident, Dies," The Seattle Times, August 18, 1987, p. E-10; "Hanford Blast Contaminates Workers," The Oregon Journal, August 30, 1976, Sehome High School Website (wwwshs1.bham.wednet. edu/curric/socst/ wa/art-2.htm).

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