Norman Chance

Fort Greely, located approximately 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska near Delta Junction, consists of 640,000 acres. The base came into being in 1942 as a staging area for planes ferried to the Soviet Union during World War II under the 'Lend Lease' program. In 1955, it was designated as a cold weather training and testing ground for the U.S. Army. Seven years later, an SM-1A nucear reactor was built to serve as the military reservation's power plant. Then, in 1966, the Army began using the base and nearby Gerstle River Military Reservation as sites for testing biological, chemical, and other weapons. The nuclear reactor was decommissioned in 1973; and in 1995, the base was scheduled for closure under the Base Realignment and Closure Act. More recently, the Department of Defense proposed that Fort Greely become a storage area for interceptor missiles to be used in support of the space-oriented National Missile Defense program. Thus, Fort Greely, one of the most isolated military bases in all of the United States, is historically linked to four of the most significant forms of contemporary warfare.

The published literature on Fort Greely includes military documents along with civilian articles, books, and web sites. For example, the unclassified monograph, U.S. Army Activity in the U.S. Biological Warfare Programs, Volume II, February, 1977 states that in 1962 the Gerstle River Test Area, thirty miles from Fort Greely, was used for cold weather testing of GB mustard gas and the lethal VX nerve gas as part of the Arctic Environmental Surveillance Program. The gas was packed into rockets and artillery shells and fired from HE 155 howitzers into nearby spruce forests and marshes adjacent to the Gerstle River. Additional tests used other chemical weapons such as BG-1 and 2, F100 and F-105. These tests ended in 1967. However, not every shell detonated as expected. Indeed, some test areas are so badly contaminated that fire fighters called in to contain brush fires, have refused to enter the region. The military also advised "against restoration and demilitarization" of the most contaminated sectors.

Another U.S. Army document, Assessment of the Gerstle Test Site describes how hundreds of rockets laden with nerve gas and slated to be destroyed in 1965, were instead placed on the ice at Blueberry Lake and forgotton. In the spring thaw they sank to the bottom of the lake. Four years later, a new commander of the Fort Greely test center tracked down rumors of the loss and eventually ordered the lake pumped dry to remove the lethal shells. More details are contained in the 1976 publication which is available on this web site.

On the civilian side, Seymour Hersh's chapter on Fort Greely in his book, Chemical and Biological Warfare Programs: America's Hidden Arsenal describes the horror expressed by a young University of Oklahoma graduate student who joined a summer biological warfare research project at the base. Learning the purpose behind the research, he expressed sharp objection, only to be threatened by his superiors that his future employment would be negatively affected if he raised the issue publically. [Recently, William Winkenwerder, Asst. Defense Secretary for Health Affairs, stated that many civilians in Alaska and other regions of the world where the U.S. engaged in open air chemical and biological weapons testing, are unaware they were sprayed with relatively mild bacteria meant to stimulate germ weapons such as anthrax. However, he also stated there is no evidence anyone died as a result of the classified hosts.]

William Johnson, a resident of Delta Junction in his youth and University of Alaska graduate student, wrote his 1993 M.A. thesis on the nuclear reactor at Fort Greely. In this study, he states that for ten years the reactor produced electricity and power to Fort Greely. After decommissioning, the nuclear fuel was relocated to an undefined region outside the state. This thesis, along with a more detailed investigative report undertaken by investigators from the environmental organization, 'Alaska Community Action on Toxics,' adds substantial information to what was previously largely unknown outside military circles.

For example, during the power production phase, liquid wastes from the SM-1A reactor were disposed of in one of two ways. From 1962 to 1967, they were held within the reactor and then diluted to ensure the radiologic components were below the release criteria established by the Atomic Energy Commission. The procedure involved mixing the radioactive liquid wastes with groundwater and then pumping the water into Jarvis Creek which ultimately flows into the Delta River. The assumption was that most radiological components in the liquid wastes would be removed before entering the creek and river.

The second method covering 1968 to 1972, involved a steam generation system to boil the radioactive liquid waste thereby reducing the volume and also producing condensate containing tritium. The reduced volume, along with radiological components not evaporated and collected by the condensate, was shipped off-site for disposal elsewhere. The remaining tritium-containing condensate produced in the steam process was then diluted and pumped into a recharge well. A short while later the well was tested and found to contain 1 x 10-5 microcuries per gram of tritium; not a serious level of contamination. Still, some local residents express concern about their health, fearful that contamination from the recharge well or other source may have reached an aquifer supplying water to the town. William Johnson's 1993 M.A. thesis refers specifically to "cancer row," a term used to describe neighbors living nearby with this disabilitating disease.

Another dimension of the Fort Greely nuclear reactor also deserves attention. Published records indicate that the reactor was designed to provide far more power than was needed for electrical and other operations at the base. Why such a large additional capacity? Part of the answer is found in Lawrence Suid's volume, The Army's Nuclear Power Program [ANPP]. Cited is a 1969 "briefing book" prepared for the 'Ad Hoc Study Group of the Army's Scientific Advisory Panel.' This publication states that one of the purposes of the Army's SM-1 portable nuclear reactor was to test whether it could provide sufficient power for the NIKE-X surface-to-air missile weapon system then being produced. "The ANPP developed a static exciter-voltage regularor system and an electric-hydralic steam turbine goveror for the SM-1 that enabled the conventional turbine generator at the SM-1 to meet the load transient criteria for NIKE-X." Such an entry suggests a crucial link highlighting the tie between the 1960s-70s biological, chemical, and nuclear reactor testing at Fort Greely with the Star Wars/National Missile Defense campaigns of the 1980s and 90s.

The concept of 'Star Wars' was first introduced in President Ronald Reagan's 1983 speech announcing a plan to render "nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." He proposed that a missile shield be built to create an impenetrable 'astrodome' over the continental United States. In the following year, an interceptor rocket homed in on and destroyed its Minuteman missile target, leading the Pentagon to claim that the test proved Star Wars was a viable form of defense; and hense, worthy of the billions of dollars earmarked for further development. [However, on August 19, 1993 in an article in the New York Times entitled "Washington Accused of Rigging 'Star Wars' Test Results," readers learned that the supposedly successful missile test of 1984 was actually faked, using a secretly placed radio beacon on the target missile to assure that it would be destroyed.]

With the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, Congress cut the 'Star Wars' Strategic Defense Initiative [SDI] budget for the first time, reducing funds by twenty-three percent. Production of new missiles was also seriously behind schedule and equally over-budgeted. As one critic expressed it in newspaper interview, the whole scenario was "unblemished by success." In an address to Congress that year, General Colin Powell, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed up the situation, stating: "Iím running out of demons. Iím down to Kim il Sung and Castro." Nevertheless, with active support from a largely conservative Congress, money continued to be appropriated. Then, in 1995, CIA Director Robert Gates reported to President Clinton that "no country other than the declared nuclear powers, will be capable of developing a ballistic missile in the next fifteen years that could threaten either the United States or Canada," Clinton vetoed a defense appropriation bill mandating the deployment of a missile defense system. Scientists from MIT and other centers of technological excellence added their opinion that an effective shield was impossible to achieve at all. That the long-range cost to the nation would be astronomical. And finally, that the plan was proactive as well as reactiveóand thus, the potential source of a new arms race.

Threatened, conservative politicians and defense experts gained the attention of the media by highlighting new dangers designed to shape public opinion in support of an updated missile program. Finally, with Republican George W. Bush in the White House, a new, multi-billion dollar 'Natonal Missile Defense' commitment is presently being implemented--including funds for a revived Fort Greely. However, many Americans in and out of government, remain unconvinced of the ballistic missile threat. They are much more troubled by the war in Iraq and what action to take following terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Hijacked airplanes and "suitcase bombs" filled with biological or chemical weaponry seem far more threatening than futuristic 'Star Wars' technology yet to be proven in U.S. research labs." To supporters of the NMD, this view is unacceptable. The information that follows highlights these differing perspectives.