350 miles NW of Fairbanks, 30 miles SE of Point Hope
Project Chariot was a 1958 US Atomic Energy Commission proposal to construct an artificial harbor at Cape Thompson on the North Slope of the U.S. state of Alaska by burying and detonating a string of nuclear explosions. The blast was expected to be 100 times more powerful than the one at Hiroshima and was tenatively scheduled to take place in 1962.
In 1957, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission AEC established the "Plowshare Program" to investigate and develop peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. In early 1958, the AEC selected a site at the mouth of the Ogotoruk Creek near Cape Thompson, approximately 30 miles southeast of the Inupiat Eskimo village of Point Hope. Shortly thereafter, they developed plans for an experimental harbor excavation to be called Project Chariot. It was not until the spring of 1960 that official representatives of the Atomic Energy Commission came to the village to explain the details of the proposed blast.
After the Atomic Energy Commission AEC was dissuaded from exploding their thermonuclear bombs at Ogotoruk Valley in 1962, AEC scientists decided to bring fresh radioactive fallout to Alaska drawn from an earlier thermonuclear explosion at the large Nevada test site. In August of 1962 approximately 26 milliCuries (mCi) of isotopes and mixed fission products were transported to the Chariot location and buried.
Irradiated soil was placed in measured plots at Ogotoruk Valley, the ground was watered to simulate rainfall.
After several experiments were completed to measure its effects on the local environment, irradiated soil imported from the location of a 1962 nuclear explosion at a Nevada Test Site was then buried. It would remain buried at the Chariot site for over 30 years.
In August of 1992, burial of the imported irradiated soil was discovered in recently declassified archival documents and letters by an University of Alaska researcher. State officials immediately traveled to the site where they then found low levels of radioactivity at a depth of two feet in the burial mound. Outraged residents of the Inupiat village of Point Hope demanded the removal of the contaminated soil, which the government did at considerable expense. It was crated and shipped back to the Nevada Test Site to be disposed. Cleanup was completed in 1994.
Those who had actively supported Project Chariot were, Alaska's political leaders, newspaper editors, the state university's president, even church groups, which all rallied in support of the massive nuclear detonation.
Opposition began with the tiny Inupiat Eskimo village of Point Hope, a few scientists engaged in environmental studies under AEC contract, and a handful of conservationists. Their grassroots protest was soon picked up by organizations with national reach, such as the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and Barry Commoner's Committee for Nuclear Information. In 1962, facing increased public uneasiness over the environmental risk and the potential to disrupt the lives of native populations, the AEC announced that Project Chariot would be "held in abeyance." It has never been formally canceled.
Environmental studies commissioned by the AEC suggested that radioactive contamination from the proposed blast could adversely affect the health and safety of the local people, whose livelihoods were based on hunting animals. The investigations noted that radiation from world-wide fallout was moving with unusual efficiency up the food chain in the Arctic, from lichen, to caribou which fed on lichen, to caribou which was a primary food source for local populations.
The 1962 "Sedan" plowshares shot displaced 12 million tons of earth and created a crater 320 feet deep and 1,280 feet wide. One of the Chariot schemes involved chaining five thermonuclear devices to create the artificial harbor. The Chariot blast was expected to be 100 times more powerful than the one at Hiroshima.
made several statements which could not be substantiated in fact.
That there was no need to restrict the area where the men did their hunting.
That the detonation would occur at a time outside the normal caribou hunting cycle.
That it would be essential that hunters and dogs remain clear of "any remotely dangerous area."
That it would be days, weeks, or months before hunters could pass through Ogotoruk Creek.
That the fish in and around the Pacific Proving Grounds were not made radioactive by nuclear weapons tests and there would not be any danger to anyone if the fish were utilized.
That the effects of nuclear weapons testing never injured any people, anywhere.
That once the severely exposed Japanese people recovered from radiation sickness...there were no side effects.
That the residents of Point Hope would not feel any seismic shock at all from Project Chariot.
That copies of the Environmental Program studies would be made immediately available to the Point Hope council upon the return of the AEC officials to California.
"Since 1958 there were attempts to lull us, the people of Noatak, Kivalina, and Point Hope. We were wheedled with rewards of acclaim from science and the peoples of the world if we would agree to go along with Project Chariot. Model housing programs were dangled before our eyes if we would move for a year into a newly-built housing center, either at Nome or Kotzebue. After a year we would be moved back, not to our home villages, but to a "combined spanking new housing center close to the exploded and alleged harbor area."
We, the Inupiat of Point Hope, have the ability to face the arrogant policies of the former Atomic Energy Commission and its Project Chariot. We will not be willing vicitms for the genocidal and inhuman policies of the Nuclear Energy Commission.
We should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems, and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have the right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.