Atomic scientist dead

A scientist who helped draw attention to false information about Nevada atomic tests died on Aug. 20 at age 90 in Troy, N.Y.

Herbert C. Clark, reportedly a member of the Manhattan Project team that developed the atom bomb, found a startlingly high level of radiation in Troy, where he was teaching on April 26, 1953. There had been two recent bomb tests in Nevada, code named Badger on April 18 and Simon on April 25. Badger was 23 kilotons, Simon was 43 kilotons. Clark, assisted by his students, collected samples of various types to document the radioactive rain.

In a biography of Barry Commoner, author Michael Egan described the discovery’s importance: “AEC scientists had confidently expected that [fallout] would remain in the stratosphere at least [29 years]. However, on 26 April 1953, physicists experimenting with radioactivity at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, noticed a sudden surge in their ‘background’ radiation counts. The surge, associated with a deluge of rain, was determined to be debris—fallout—from nuclear tests in Nevada thirty-six hours earlier.”

“The highest level of radioactivity deposited anywhere in the country from that test was right here in Troy,” Clark said later.

Clark himself published a paper on the incident, “The Occurrence of an Unusually High-Level Radioactive Rainout in the Area of Troy, N.Y.,” in Science magazine.

Troy Times Union columnist Don Rittner this week recalled how word spread and residents reacted: “My mother ran out to me in the street and grabbed me to get me in from the ‘dangerous’ invisible cloud that was settling over Troy on April 26, 1953 … [An] unusually violent storm, 2300 miles from the detonation, carried high winds, hail, torrential rain, to Troy, and it was reported as one of the worst flash storms to hit the area. Clark’s Geiger counters in his lab [registered radiation] more than 3 times greater than normal. The radioactivity was also found in the drinking water.”

Paradoxically, Clark later received grants from the AEC for radiation-related research.