Next stop: Sandia National Laboratories, near Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we get the title of these chapters.

I wrote in Part 1 that the atomic scientists in the 40s and 50s got anything they wanted, a blank check to spend, spend, spend. Sandia National Laboratory just south of Albuquerque, New Mexico was the first place I saw this in action, historically speaking. The Atomic Age Scientists in Sandia were a curious bunch and it helped that they had an Air Force base right next door, which meant lots of planes to drop things from the sky. They seemed to sit around a lot and wonder, “What If?”

Like what if they dropped a small nuclear bomb on a bus? Done and boom! Small household appliances? Done and boom! How about the house itself? Done and boom, over and over. This went on for several years, a couple of decades actually, spending untold billions of dollars and making thousands of desert acres glitter with radioactive metals and plastic.

Some of the explosions involved human exposures, “volunteers” from the military. I don’t need to supply links, just use dagoogle to search for human guinea pigs nuclear tests and you’ll find lots.

But some experiments involved animals, no surprise there, since humans have been “experimenting” with animals for centuries, and we continue to do so under the guise of research to better us, the humans. The Department of Energy utilized a variety of animals for their tests.

At Sandia, I was assigned to help gather analysis on some known toxic areas near the Inhalation Toxicology Research Institute (ITRI), down a remote road deep in the Sandia complex. Driving up through the dust and getting out of our rented vans, the first thing that hits you is the heat.

The second thing that hits you is the sound of hounds. Baying, full-throated hounds. Hundreds of them. ITRI, you see, uses beagles as their guinea pigs (I use the present tense here because as far as I can determine, it still does. If you know different, please let me know).

Our crew was given a brief tour of the labs. A technician explained that ITRI had been using beagles for more than 30 years, since about 1965. At one time, the facility had thousands of the dogs, but budget cut-backs and animal-rights groups had forced DOE to reconsider the project; at that time, in 1995, there were less than a thousand dogs, perhaps 800 or so.

Why beagles, we asked. Oh, here’s the helpful chart and model to explain that the physiology of beagle lungs are a close match to the human lung, making them perfect candidates to the insights of pulmonary medicine. So, next question: what kind of experiments.

Please, do not continue if you are easily upset. Or if you’re a beagle lover. Or a dog lover. Well, I just lost most of my audience, but here goes.

The experiments sort of followed a lot of the radiological experiments’ focus: the “What If” factor. What if radium is injected in beagle lungs? What if beagles are forced to breath in radium gas? What if we invented cigarettes made of uranium/polonium/plutonium and blow that smoke into the cage where beagles were? What if we use real cigarettes? What if we extract lungs and hearts, kept them inflated and beating, then do all of the above and some other stuff to them?

How long does it take beagles to die when you do any or all  of the above? How do they die? Check one: tumors, necropsy, emphysema, pulmonary embolism, other.

How about puppies that are born to the “test subjects?” What happens to them? While we’re at it, let’s do all of the above to .. the.. puppies.

So what am I and the crew doing there? We’re analyzing the dirt around specific areas of ITRI for contamination. What do you do with dead beagles for 40 years? You bury them. But those dead beagles were radioactive – hence the problem. And while we’re working in the area known as the “Puppy Pit” (you can’t make this stuff up), we’re trying to drown out the mournful sounds of all of those baying beagles. It was a hard four weeks.

I was very glad to leave that place, and climb the hill to Los Alamos for my next project.

Denver      Idaho Falls      Albuquerque       Los Alamos