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November 13, 1987

The Dragon's Tail: Radiation Safety in the Manhattan Project, 1942-1946

JAMA. 1987;258(18):2596-2597. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400180130052

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


The book's title is a metaphorical comparison of a dragon's tail to the "special hazards" of the Manhattan Project. It was not intended to refer to the fact that many members of the public have come to regard the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agencies as a malevolent dragon trying to cover up injuries it has caused. This book is clearly intended to combat that perception. It is a thoroughly documented history (one third of the book is references) of the development of radiation safety: of how the lessons learned from handling radium and x-rays were applied to the prevention of injuries while developing and testing nuclear weapons. The massive amounts of ionizing radiation and large amounts of little known substances such as plutonium posed big new safety problems in a tense wartime atmosphere.

There was always a conflict between building the bomb in secrecy and radiation safety (both