In November 1946, President Harry S. Truman issued a directive authorizing the NAS-NRC to undertake the long-term study of the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just prior to Truman's directive, a five-man commission, operating under the auspices of the National Research Council's Division of Medical Sciences and calling itself the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, had been sent to Japan to conduct a preliminary survey of the situation.
The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) was officially established under the direction of the Research Council's Division of Medical Sciences in March 1947. The ABCC, which was responsible for carrying out research in the field, was overseen by the division's Committee on Atomic Casualties, which later became the Advisory Committee on ABCC. Operations were funded by the newly created Atomic Energy Commission's Biology and Medicine Division.
The survey findings of the original five-man NAS-NRC commission, communicated in December 1946, made up the ABCC's first report. The first research program proper set up by the ABCC was a hematological study, begun under James V. Neel in March 1947. By 1950, the ABCC had a number of departments in operation, and had established a series of studies that would include research on radiation cataracts, leukemia and other cancers, survivors' aging and mortality rates, sex ratios of survivors' offspring, and genetics.
Logistical and organizational problems of the early ABCC were such that by 1955 it appeared that the program would have to be terminated. Toward the end of 1955, a committee under the direction of NAS Member Thomas Francis was sent to Japan to assess the ABCC and its programs; on the committee's recommendation a new and more effective study program was implemented. By 1957 George B. Darling of Yale University was made director, and it was under his long leadership -- ending only in 1972 -- that the ABCC was able to reorient and stabilize its operations. An Adult Health Study involving biennial examinations of survivors was soon established, followed not long after by new cytogenetic studies. It was also under Darling's leadership that the ABCC instituted bilingual technical protocols and increased the participation of the Japanese National Institute of Health in ABCC studies.
By the early 1970s, constraints imposed by increased operating costs began to make themselves felt. In response to requests that the Japanese Government increase its support of the ABCC, a new, binational private foundation, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), was negotiated into existence, and in 1975 it replaced the ABCC while continuing the latter's programs.
[Original description by NAS Archives]
The Japanese Imperial Army and Navy initiated an investigation immediately after the August, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Right after the conclusion of the war on August 15, 1945, the Special Commission for Investigating Effects of the Atomic Bomb was established in the academic research council on September 14 of the same year. Greatly influenced by the allied forces, academic research organizations spearheaded investigations in a variety of fields. On the other hand, while U.S. President Harry S. Truman ordered the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) to promptly conduct an investigation into the effects of the bombing, on September 4 a U.S. Army medical investigation team held a meeting in Tokyo and met with the Japanese. Against this backdrop, in the same month The Armed Forces Joint Commission for Investigating Effects of the Atomic Bomb in Japan was organized. This Commission finished its investigation in December of that year.
In May, 1946, U.S. Army Colonel Ashley W. Oughterson, one of the leaders of the U.S. military joint investigation team, asked US Army Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk to recommend to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) - National Research Council (NRC) the planning of continuous research regarding the effects of atomic bombs on the human body. With this, NRC Department of Medical Science (DMS) chair Lewis H. Weed convened a conference of the U.S. Navy, public health authorities, the State Department and the American Cancer Society, and they decided to dispatch to Japan an onsite investigative team of four, Austin M. Brues, Paul S. Henshaw, Melvin A. Block and James V. Neel in October of that year. Also, before that the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was established as an organ of the federal government in August, 1946 with responsibility for both military and civilian nuclear development in the United States. The AEC took over the functions of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.
In November, 1946, with President Truman approving a long term investigation of atomic bomb injuries, the Committee of Atomic Casualties (CAC) was established in the United States National Research Council medical subcommittee with funding from the AEC, and the first meeting was held in March, 1947 (CAC was later reorganized into the Advisory Committee on ABCC). Also, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) was established based on the CAC and with a focus on the local investigative team of Austin M. Brues and others, who had already begun their work in Japan. The ABCC started operations temporarily based in the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital.
While the initial main topics for ABCC were establishing a research system and problems in setting up a laboratory, regarding the former, in June, 1947 ABCC members and Masao Tsuzuki visited the Ministry of Health and Welfare Vaccination Bureau and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to request cooperation. As a result, in January, 1948 the NIH officially decided to participate in the ABCC. Further, in the same month it was decided to use the Ujina Gaisenkan as a research facility (Ujina Laboratory). Then Army Lieutenant Colonel Carl F. Tessmer became the first ABCC director in March, 1948, and that July an ABCC Nagasaki laboratory was established in the Nagasaki Medical College Hospital. In the same month facilities were completed in Kure as well (closed in 1953).
In July 1949, there was an opening ceremony for the Ujina Laboratory and the Kure facility with the participants including Crawford F. Sams, director of the Public Health and Welfare Section and Dr. Harry C. Kelly of the Economic and Scientific Section of General Headquarters, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (GHQ / SCAP). While the Ujina Laboratory was a temporary facility, after many twists and turns it was decided to build a permanent laboratory in Hijiyama. Work began in the same month and was completed in November, 1950. The transfer from Ujina Laboratory finished in 1951.
With the preparation of such a research environment, there was a series of investigations and research from 1949, including atomic bomb victim population surveys, leukemia surveys, adult medical surveys, nationwide atomic bomb survivor ancillary surveys in the national census, surveys of children exposed to the atomic bomb in utero and death / cause of death surveys. In September, 1951, the Hiroshima Medical Society and the ABCC held the Meeting to Read Research Papers on the Effects of the Atomic Bomb, and with the cooperation of the Science Council of Japan an ABCC report meeting was held in Tokyo in January, 1952.
In 1955, a special committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences National Research Council headed by professor Thomas Francis, Jr. of the University of Michigan reviewed the ABCC’s research, and the subsequent report (the Francis Report) recommended a Comprehensive Research Plan based on a clearly defined fixed group. With this recommendation, in 1957 director George B. Darling reformed the research program, and a system for U.S. – Japan joint research involving such agencies as the NIH was established during his term.
In July, 1957, a system was established to publicly announce research plans and results. Technical Reports were prepared in both Japanese and English and distributed to ABCC employees, advisors, councils and institutions, governments and related private sector locations. Also, Annual Reports were published bilingually from 1957. There were also efforts to improve preservation and use of materials and data collected in the Japan – U.S. joint research.
Although most ABCC management expenses from its founding were covered by funding from the biomedical program of the AEC, an organ of the American federal government, due to such problems as contributions from Japan and the U.S., and securing employees to provide expert guidance, in the latter half of the 1960s discussion regarding the need to restructure the ABCC emerged. There were also increasing doubts about the U.S. led research system. ABCC restructuring gained the approval of concerned organizations in the U.S., and discussion between Japanese and American governmental authorities took place between 1972 and 1974. As a result, in December, 1974 an agreement was signed that provided for the establishment of a new laboratory as a legally incorporated foundation. In March, 1975 an ABCC scientific reconsideration special committee report was prepared, and the Commission closed on the last day of the month. On April 1, the following day, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation was founded as a new research organization to continue the investigation and research programs of the ABCC with the purpose of establishing a “contribution with peaceful purposes to the health of the human race and the health maintenance and welfare of atomic bomb survivors through the investigation and research into the medical effects of radiation on humans and resulting illnesses.”
[Additional description by JSPS Research Project]