297. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (Seaborg) to the National Security Council Under Secretaries Committee1 2


  • Honorable John N. Irwin II, Chairman, NSC Under Secretaries Committee
  • Honorable Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Honorable David Packard, Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • Honorable Richard N. Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
  • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, USN, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Honorable George P. Shultz, Director, Office of Management and Budget
  • Honorable Gerard C. Smith, Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • Honorable Eduard E. David, Jr., President’s Science Adviser
  • Honorable Russell E. Train, Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality
  • Honorable Frank Shakespeare, Director, United States Information Agency


Enclosed for your information is an interim status report on the BANEBERRY underground nuclear test which was conducted at the Nevada Test Site on December 18, 1970, and which released radioactivity to the atmosphere.

While I commend the entire report to your attention, I would like to emphasize the following points with respect to this release of radioactivity:

No public health hazard resulted from the radioactivity which was detected at any location off the Nevada Test Site. Radiological survey results to date have not indicated sufficient levels of radioactivity to justify special field studies or the need for instituting protective actions.
As a result of the radioactive release, Area 12, which is on the Nevada Test Site, had to be evacuated. While contingency plans for such an evacuation were initiated promptly, some personnel exposures and equipment contamination did occur. About 145 personnel required decontamination with the highest contamination level observed being about 200 mR/hr in the hair of one individual. The highest exposure to a worker was approximately 6 Rem to thyroid and approximately 1 Rem to whole body. No worker exceeded the quarterly occupational standard for the thyroid, which is 10 Rem, or for the whole body, which is 3 Rem.
Although it is too early to determine the cause of the radioactive release, two possibilities which are being investigated quite closely are an anomalous geologic situation or the induction of a failure as a result of an unexpectedly high yield. Either possibility might account for the observed surface fissure through which the radioactive products were released. Preshot containment reviews which were quite thorough indicated no geological fault in this area.

The Commission does not intend to authorize the conduct of any further tests at the Nevada Test Site until it has reviewed the BANEBERRY test in detail and is convinced every reasonable precaution has been initiated to reduce the probability of a similar future occurrence.

You will be kept advised of our progress in this matter. It is currently planned to complete our detailed review by the end of January 1971. This schedule is subject to change, however, since the yield determination in BANEBERRY may not be available until February 1971.


Glenn T. Seaborg
  1. Source: Journal of Glenn T. Seaborg, vol. 24, pp. 42–43. No classification marking. The status report is not included in Seaborg’s journal.
  2. Seaborg highlighted an interim status report on the December 18, 1970, Baneberry underground nuclear test, which vented radioactivity into the atmosphere. The report indicated no large scale public health hazard resulting from the explosion and designated an investigation into the possibilities for the radioactive release.