Project Chariot

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. Late in 1962, after extensive scientific studies, the AEC announced that it "would defer further consideration of the proposed Chariot experiment," due in part to public criticism.

One of the studies performed was called the "tracer experiment" in which radioactive materials from a Nevada test site were applied to small plots in the Ogotoruk Creek basin. These plots were then spinkled with water and the resulting runoff was analyzed to determine the dispersion of the radioactive material throughout the area. At the conclusion of the experiment, the soil at the test plots was dug up and buried in a single mound near the junction of Snowbank and Ogotoruk Creeks.

The site was used by the Department of the Navy as a logistical support base for the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory from 1965 to 1970. In 1980, the area became part of the Chukchi Sea Unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and is now known as the Cape Thompson Subunit.

In August of 1992, Dan O'Neill, a University of Alaska-Fairbanks researcher, obtained recently declassified documents and letters describing the burial of soil contaminated with radioactive materials. Following this public disclosure, the former AEC, now the Department of Energy, assumed responsibility for the cleanup of this contaminated soil. The process was completed in 1994.

Douglas L. Vandegraft
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The following case study traces the process of events from the initial design of Project Chariot to its final conclusion.