AEHSP grew out of Cliff Honicker and Jackie Kittrell's work on the Radiation Research Project, an unincorporated project of the Institute for Southern Studies. Cliff and Jackie's goal was to demystify nuclear policy documents concerned with health and safety and make the information accessible for those most directly affected by the policy ---the workers and community around the dozens of nuclear weapons plants across our country.
Initially, in 1982, they worked with a nonprofit called Oak Ridge Peace Conversion Project, a peace and economic justice-focused group who held annual vigils in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Jackie was a new mother and student of law in nearby Knoxville who had worked as a National Lawyer's Guild intern in South Carolina. She worked with the Palmetto Alliance and the SC legislature during the summer of 1980 to rewrite the state workers compensation act so that atomic workers could qualify for compensation, even when their occupational diseases did not show up for years after exposure. She also researched some of the early nuclear workplace accidents, interviewing survivors and reviewing earlier union battles for reform. She saw how the peace movement, the anti-nuclear power movement and the union movement had come together around nuclear health concerns post-WWII and in the early 1960s.
Cliff, who had grown up in an activist family, spending much of his formative years helping his mother run for Congress and sue the NRC in the historic lawsuit, Honicker v. Hendrie (later Honicker v. Palladino), was in graduate school in sociology when he uncovered a stash of radiobiology papers which dealt with medical-legal policy during the time when Oak Ridge was the central administration of the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission.
Cliff and Jackie's research and community work were used in "Our Own Worst Enemy: the Impact of Military Production on the Upper South" by Schlesinger, Gaventa, et al., Highlander Center, 1983. Working with the Oak Ridge Peace Conversion Project, they published a monthly newsletter called Peaceworks, and were tasked with organizing a Hiroshima Day vigil in 1983. Under their leadership, Oak Ridge church and community groups joined in the planning of that event for the first time ever. That same summer, the Department of Energy admitted for the first time that it had contaminated water and soil offsite and then classified the fact --in this case, to the tune of 2.4 million pounds of elemental mercury, the largest such spill in history. (As well, this turn of events --sparked by inside whistleblower-scientists, independent state regulators, newspaper reporters submitting FOIAs-- led to DOE being regulated by EPA and their host-states for the first time.)
Out of the interplay of complex local and national scenes, both Jackie and Cliff saw first hand the inherent barriers involved when the "powers-that-be" pitted the health-impacted community members against peace and environmental activists.
In 1984, Cliff took the policy files he found and instigated a Congressinal investigation on the medical and legal problems of the Manhattan project. Included in the investigation was information on government-sponsored human radiation experimentation, work which was inspired and begun by Bob Alvarez, Kitty Tucker, Dorothy Legarretta, Todd Ensign, Anthony Guarisco, Arjun Makijhani, and Geoff Bernstein Sea. The resulting report, "American Nuclear Guinea Pigs: Three Decades of Radiation Experiments on U.S. Citizens," was published in 1986 through the House Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power, chaired by Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts.
Cliff's experiences and interviews were eventually published in a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story, Hidden Files, in November, 1989. The investigation and article helped in the effort to demand that DOE release over 500,000 records of nuclear workers for an epidemological study by Dr. Alice Stewart (Birmingham, England). Dr. Stewart was a trusted advisor to the Radiation Research Project, as was Dr. Karl Morgan, "the father of health physics."
After Jackie received her law degree in 1989 (and with two of three sons born), she filed, along with the help of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the first nuclear whistle blower case in Oak Ridge. She also continued to provide technical assistance to unions on document searches, and helped nuclear workers and residents organize around the health effects of environmental and historical exposures. She facilitated the testimony by nuclear workers before all branches of government --Congress, the Executive Cabinet and Agencies, the Courts, as well as facilitating the issues to national and local press.
In 1998, Jackie represented Joe Harding's widow, Clara Harding, in her successful attempt to get Joe's pension reinstated. In 2000, Clara, the Harding family, with Jackie's help, testified in a key committee hearing before the Senate, leading directly to the passage of the Atomic Workers Compensation Act. Although this was just the first step in dealing with occupational illness caused by weapons production, it helped people like Clara Harding who have been without hope for 30 years or more, and it helps tally the true, heretofor externalized cost of preparing for a nuclear war.
In 1993, AEHSP, along with others, helped educate the media, as well as Congress and executive Agencies, about the history and victims of government-sponsored human radiation experiments. In 1994, after the Nashville Tennessean wrote about the Vanderbilt University experiment on 800+ pregnant women using radioactive iron, Jackie was contacted by Emma Craft, whose daughter, Carolyn, was a fetus during the experiment and died of a painful bone cancer at age 10. Out of this contact grew a class action lawsuit against the institutions and government agencies involved in conducting the experiment and covering up the harmful effects for 30 years. (The lawsuit was successfully settled in 1998.)
AEHSP assisted survivors and family members in testifying before the President's Advisory Commission on Human Radiation Experiments (PACHRE), requested document searches, and brought out key documents showing how our government conducted a coverup of harmful effects of radiation, fluoride, and other toxic chemicals, in the name of national security, but motivated solely by a fear of litigation and negative publicity.
AEHSP worked continually toward more openness in government, with special attention to occupational dangers, environmental harm and human health.
In 1999, Jackie worked with others to create an international exchange program to allow women leaders living in communities around nuclear weapons sites in the US and the former Soviet Union to meet each other, stay in each other's homes, and exchange strategies for organizing and educating their neighborhoods.
While at AEHSP, Cliff worked as an investigative research consultant to such organizations as CNN Special Assignment, BBC, and the Chugoku Shimbun (Hiroshima, Japan). From 1983 to 1998 he was responsible for raising the annual budget for the Oak Ridge Peace Conversion Project, Radiation Research Project, and for AEHSP. He received grants from such foundations as the J.Roderick MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Family Associates, the Rockefeller Family Fund, The CS Fund, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Cliff's expertise is in community-based environmental health policy and planning and investigative research. Jackie's AEHSP work ended in 2001, due to lack of funding, but she is still active in supporting efforts of nuclear workers and communities.