Study de-bunks mass cancer death myth from Chicago nuclear milestone

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A recent report by Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, de-bunks a persistent belief that all 49 scientists present at the University of Chicago's Stagg Field in 1942 to witness the birth of Chicago Pile 1 -- the world's first nuclear reactor --  died of cancer from radiation poisoning.

In 1942, the first nuclear reactor in the world became critical. A team of 49 scientists were gathered in a converted squash court located the abandoned Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. The researchers celebrated with a bottle of Chianti, which the scientists signed in commemoration of the event.

Argonne National Laboratory kept track of these scientists and their causes of death. Their data shows that the claim is a myth.

As of February 2015, the study's researchers said 41 out of the 49 scientists had died. For 39 of them, there is a recorded year of death, and for 34, an age at death is known: 31 died 36 years or more after the initial criticality of the nuclear reactor, 23 died 50 or more years after the criticality, 25 reached age 70 or older, and 12 reached age 90 or older. Only one died in his 30s, in an accident.

Cause of death is known for 29 scientists: five from strokes, 11 from heart disease, seven from cancers not likely related to radiation, two from lung diseases, one from hepatitis, one from injuries after a fall at home, one from Alzheimer’s complications and one from an accident at work.

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Argonne National Laboratory 9700 S. Cass Ave. Lemont, IL 60439

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