Harold McCluskey

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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] Harold was exposed to at least 37 MBq of americium-241 and nitric acid.[2] He was hit on the right side by a mixture of nitric acid, broken glass, americium and ion exchange resin.[3]

Harold was helped from the room, had his clothing removed and was washed with water at the scene. He was transferred to a decontamination facility where he was washed again and given a dose of one gram of Ca-DTPA on arrival. For the first week he had two baths per day, then he had one bath per day for two months. For the first five days he was treated with the calcium complex of DTPA and then after that for four years he was treated with a total of 583 grams of the zinc complex of DTPA. The treatment reduced the systemic deposition to 500 kBq instead of the 19 MBq which he would otherwise retained inside his body.

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.[4]

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. He had this disease before the accident, and a post mortem examination found no signs of cancer. At the time of his death he had 55 kBq of americium in his soft tissues (27.9 kBq in the liver), 470 kBq in the mineral surfaces of the bones and bone marrow contained 20 kBq of americium.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d Cary, Annette (April 25, 2008). "Doctor remembers Hanford's 'Atomic Man'". Tri-City Herald. Archived from the original on February 10, 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2017. 
  2. ^ González, Abel J. (September 1999). "Strengthening the Safety of Radiation Sources & the Security of Radioactive Materials: Timely Action" (PDF). IAEA Bulletin. Vol. 14 no. 3. International Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved March 6, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Carbaugh, Eugene H. (July 14, 2014). The 1976 Hanford Americium Accident, Then and Now (PDF) (Speech). 59th Annual Meeting of the Health Physics Society. Baltimore, MD. Retrieved March 6, 2017. 
  4. ^ "Hanford nuclear workers enter site of worst contamination accident". Billings Gazette. Associated Press. June 3, 2005. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2017. 

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