America Atomica

Eileen Welsome

A secret experiment conducted at the dawn of the nuclear age. 


This installation is a part of INTER\VIEWS: an inter\active oral history exhibition, showcasing multimedia projects and stories recorded by the 2018-2019 cohort of Columbia University’s Oral History MA program. Register here!

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Between 1945 and 1947, doctors working for the Manhattan Project, the wartime effort to build the atomic bomb, injected 18 people with plutonium without their knowledge or consent. The patients were given code numbers and their identities remained secret for half a century. Over six years while working for a small afternoon newspaper in New Mexico I was able to unlock the codes and identify the patients using the Freedom of Information Act. Then over another six years I wrote a book, "The Plutonium Files," revealing the experiment. All of the patients went to their graves without knowing what had been done to them. Here, I examine the continuing impact of the plutonium experiment on surviving family members and how trauma is transmitted through generations.

Eileen Welsome is a longtime author and journalist who has received many national awards for her work, including the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Award and two PEN awards. She has always focused on social justice issues and hopes to use her oral history training to deepen the stories that she tells. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, two dogs and a cat.