Accession Number:



Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE. Exposure of Drugs to Nuclear Explosions. Project 22.4.

Descriptive Note:

[Technical Report, Technical Report]

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A representative selection of 42 common drug preparations was exposed to the action of nuclear radiation and blast at two shots in the Upshot-Knothole series in Nevada in the spring of 1953. The drugs were packaged in the form in which they would be found on drugstore shelves and were exposed to various levels of neutron and gamma radiation ranging up to 50,000 r. Insulin and vitamin B12 were reduced in potency by about 10 and 50 per cent, respectively, but no other preparation tested showed any deterioration. Some of the drugs showed a moderate level of induced radioactivity. This activity was traced either to an actual mineral constituent of the drug itself, as in the case of thiopental sodium, or to an excipient, such as calcium phosphate used in aureomycin. However, the level of activity was so low that little or no radiological health hazard would be involved in the normal use of the exposed drugs, although those with a high sodium content should be allowed to cool for several days before using them. Any drugs in containers remaining physically undamaged at a distance of 1000 yd from the explosion of a nominal atomic bomb are considered entirely safe for immediate use. Under heavy exposure the glass containers in which the drugs were packaged displayed strong but short-lived activity due to their sodium content. Clear glass also showed a marked darkening. None of the closures failed, and none of the closure materials deteriorated chemically or biologically under the conditions of the tests.


Subject Categories:

  • Pharmacology
  • Radioactivity, Radioactive Wastes and Fission Products

Distribution Statement:

[A, Approved For Public Release]