Harold McCluskey

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"Atomic man" redirects here. For the Headline Comics character, see Atomic Man.

Harold R. McCluskey (July 12, 1912 – August 17, 1987) was a chemical operations technician at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant located in Washington State who is known for having survived, on August 30, 1976, exposure to the highest dose of radiation from americium ever recorded. He became known as the 'Atomic Man'.[1]


On August 30, 1976, McCluskey, then 64, was exposed to 500 times the occupational standard for americium-241, a plutonium byproduct, as the result of an accident in a glove box resulting in an explosion. As nitric acid was added to a column containing an ion-exchange resin and americium, the chemicals exploded, blowing out the leaded glass of the glove box.[1]

Because of risk of exposure to other individuals, he was placed in isolation in the Hanford Emergency Decontamination Facility for five months and underwent chelation therapy using DTPA by Dr. Bryce Breitenstein.[1] By 1977, his body's radiation count had fallen by about 80 percent. When McCluskey returned home, friends and church members avoided him. His minister finally had to tell people it was safe to be around him.[2]

Although McCluskey largely avoided the media, Breitenstein said McCluskey sometimes accompanied him when he gave lectures on the case.[1] "He really wanted people to know what happened as long as it is rationally presented," Breitenstein said. Several times after the explosion, McCluskey spoke in favor of developing nuclear power, saying he saw his injuries as the result of "purely an industrial accident."

He died on August 17, 1987, of coronary artery disease.


  1. ^ a b c d Cary, Annette (2008-04-25). "Doctor remembers Hanford's 'Atomic Man'". Tri-City Herald. Archived from the original on 2010-02-10. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  2. ^ AP wire (2005-06-03). "Hanford nuclear workers enter site of worst contamination accident". Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-06-17. 

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