Manhattan Project: URMC involvement in deadly plutonium injections revisited

Credit: The U.S. National Archives via

In 1945, World War II was still underway and the United States was racing to understand and harness the destructive properties of plutonium, uranium and other elements. The effort was labeled the Manhattan Project, and it resulted in the atomic bombs that fell in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

While one army of researchers was trying to figure out how to design plutonium-based weapons, another was studying what the health effects would be. That work was done in labs in Berkeley, California; Los Alamos, New Mexico; Chicago; and Rochester.

Under the supervision of the Department of Defense, a select group of doctors were asked to inject unwitting patients with catastrophic amounts of plutonium, uranium and polonium. None were informed, either in advance or afterward. The intention was to find people with terminal illnesses, though that directive was ultimately not followed.