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Point Hope from the Air

Point Hope from the Air

Have you heard about the big harbor at Cape Thompson in Alaska? Oh it doesn’t exist, of course, no thanks to the Atomic Energy Commission. they were going to make a harbor at Cape Thompson, just south of Point Hope. They were going to build it in a jiffy, so to speak.

I did mention this was the Atomic Energy Commission, didn’t I?

Project Chariot would have set off a series of atomic bombs at Cape Thompson in an effort to provide the proof of concept for operation Plowshare, a program to develop peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. In 1958, the prospect of geological engineering stood high on the agenda for the folks behind Operation Plowshare, and the Iñupiat people of the North Slope stood to become human guinea pigs in the process. Already showing signs of increased radiation due to above ground tests, the native population of the North Slope would have seen still more radiation flowing into the lichen to caribou highway to their own bodies. Luckily the natives of Point Hope understood radiation enough to fight back. It took an extensive public relations campaign and several years of struggle to stop Project Chariot. A lot of people fought damned hard to keep that harbor from happening and thankfully, they won, but that was hardly the end of the story.


When the Atomic Energy Commission finally gave up its plan to bomb the North Slope of Alaska for the purpose of building a useless harbor, it then proceeded to conduct a study of the radiation would have on Ogotoruk creek in Cape Thompson. Toward this end, they planted radioactive material in the creek and studied the effects.

…without telling anyone in the area.

Are you mad yet? I know I was when I first learned about this story. Bastard that I am, I just had to share the outrage, but I’m not going to tell that full story here, partly because I really am a bastard, and partly because others have already told that story better than I could. A thorough account of the controversy can be found in Dan O’Neill’s book, The Firecracker Boys. More recently, Iñupiat movie-maker Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson  released a documentary on Project Chariot. Edwardson’s work raises a number of questions about the lingering effects of the tracer study and health problems in the Point Hope community (including concerns that something may still be buried at Ogotoruk Creek). Her film is available through the North Slope Borough School District.