Department of Energy Blocks NASA’s Planned Monkey Radiation Experiments
Brookhaven National Laboratory Confirms Cancellation of Space Agency’s $1.75 Million Boondoggle
WASHINGTON—NASA’s plan to expose live squirrel monkeys to radiation has been canceled, according to a statement just released by Brookhaven National Laboratory. Administration officials informed the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) that the experiments have been canceled due to scientific and ethical concerns. NASA had planned to irradiate dozens of live monkeys at Brookhaven, which the Department of Energy oversees and funds.
“NASA has informed Brookhaven that a proposal involving primate research at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory on the Brookhaven Lab site should be removed from consideration for experimental time at the facility,” the Brookhaven statement says.
NASA released a statement on Dec. 8 explaining that the agency is planning a review of its human spaceflight research.
“NASA is going to undertake a comprehensive review of the agency's current research and technology development plans to see how they align with the president's plan for human spaceflight, as outlined in the U.S. National Space Policy and the 2010 NASA Authorization Act,” the NASA statement says. “We look forward to the findings of that review, which will inform our decision making moving forward.”
Brookhaven’s announcement confirms that, in light of NASA’s review, the agency has canceled the monkey radiation experiments.
“Bombarding live monkeys with radiation is cruel and scientifically useless,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., PCRM’s senior medical and research adviser. “I’m glad the Department of Energy has canceled these flawed experiments.”
In November 2009, PCRM filed a federal petition for administrative action seeking to compel the federal government to halt these experiments because they violate the NASA Principles for the Ethical Care and Use of Animals, also known as the Sundowner Report. PCRM took further action by urging NASA’s inspector general to stop the wasteful experiments and by filing legal complaints stating the monkey experiments violate the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Opposition to the monkey experiments has come from scientists, doctors, members of Congress, and countless concerned citizens, including thousands of PCRM members. A NASA aerospace engineer resigned in protest. Several faculty members of Harvard medical school have publicly stated that the proposed monkey radiation experiments were scientifically flawed and a waste of $1.75 million in taxpayer money.
The NASA experiments, proposed by Jack Bergman of McLean Hospital near Boston, would have involved exposing squirrel monkeys to harmful radiation at Brookhaven and then shipping them to McLean Hospital, where they would have been compelled to perform tasks to test for cognitive impairment. These highly intelligent and social primates would have been housed alone in steel cages for at least four years and subjected to daily restraint in primate chairs.
NASA planned to conduct these monkey experiments in an attempt to shed light on the effects of deep space radiation on a human astronaut bound for Mars. The $1.75 million slated for monkey experiments would be better spent on human-centered research methods, Dr. Pippin says. Ongoing studies, including those funded by NASA and the Department of Energy, already use nonanimal methods to determine the effects of low-dose radiation on human tissues. And NASA has voluminous radiation exposure data from four decades of human space flight.
One of the many scientific flaws in the proposed monkey experiments is that the monkeys would not have been exposed to a true simulation of deep space radiation. In addition, decades of previous radiation experiments using primates produced nothing of value for the space program.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.