Timeline of the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute
1958—The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery recommends the Department of Defense establish a biomedical nuclear reactor facility to study the acute affects of nuclear weapons. Support for the proposed Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute grows, and the establishment of this new facility moves forward at a rapid pace.
1960—The beginning of AFRRI construction is marked by a ground breaking ceremony on November 29, 1960. Photo (left to right): Bartholomew B. Hogan RADM, MSC Navy Surgeon General; Dr. Frank B. Berry ASD, Health and Medical; F.P. Kreuz RADM, MSC Commander NNMC; R.H. Harrison BG, USA Deputy Chief of Staff DASA
1961—AFRRI is formally established and designated as the premier radiobiology research laboratory for the Department of Defense. According to a directive issued by the DoD in May, AFRRI facilities will be used to support national welfare, study the biological effects of ionizing radiation and conduct advanced training and educational programs.
1962—Initial construction on AFRRI’s original facilities commences, and a new team of civilian as well as Army, Navy, and Air Force scientists begin researching the effects of radiation on humans. The Institute begins operating a TRIGA (Training, Research, and Isotope, General Atomics) research reactor in one of their underground laboratories. The reactor generates neutrons and gamma rays for radiation experiments. It remains the primary radiation source at AFRRI today.
1963—The laboratory is fully operational.
1964—The Office of the Secretary of Defense reassigns command and administrative control of AFRRI to the Defense Nuclear Agency.
1968—The linear accelerator (photo, right), or LINAC, is installed at AFRRI. It is an additional source of radiation and is used to produce high-energy electron beams and high-energy X-ray radiation.
1971—AFRRI broadens its research focus because changing political landscapes no longer call for widespread investigations on the effects of biological weapons alone. New programs cover a variety of topics including drug abuse in Vietnam, toxicology of propulsion fuels, toxicology of explosives, and other major problems in the military.
1975–1976—AFRRI collaborates with the McDonald Committee to study the problems of theater nuclear war. Among the teams’ efforts, AFRRI director Army Colonel LaWayne Stromberg leads a committee studying collateral damage effects. Other AFRRI personnel push this work forward by visiting field unit and translating operational requirements into scientific research questions.
1977—AFRRI begins teaching the Medical Effect of Nuclear Weapons Course (later called the Medical Effects of Ionizing Radiation Course).
1986—A task force commissioned by the Defense Nuclear Agency is streamlined to evaluate AFRRI’s management and organization. The Institute, according to their findings, has great potential and is an essential component of the Nation’s radiobiology research program. The DNA-appointed task force did, however, make important recommendations that led to a structural reorganization at AFRRI. These include: the creation of new positions, the formulation of a research council, the establishment of an outside research review committee, and the development of an aggressive outreach program to answer joint service research requirements.
1992—Management of the Institute is transferred once again, this time to the Uniformed Services University. Funding was also reduced because a peace dividend allows for only bare-bones nuclear and radiological research capabilities.
During this transition period, there are also discussions to close the AFRRI facility permanently. The Joint Chiefs of Staff find “none of the options adequately support the U.S. military mission and will do irretrievable harm to the program before knowing the impact of such a closure.”
No further action is taken.
1998–1999—India and Pakistan detonate nuclear weapons, and this affects U.S. citizens living there. Reports on Iraq note suspected nuclear weapons programs, and many believe that North Koreas is seeking ways to produce nuclear weapons. In addition, there are several radiological accidents worldwide. The private industry has little interest in developing military-relevant radioprotectants or therapeutics because there is no profit. This fact makes the need for AFRRI clearer than ever.
2001—Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon further renew appreciation of the nuclear and radiological threats existing in the world.
2003—A four-member Medical Radiobiology Advisory Team sponsored by AFRRI provides direct support to the commander of the North American Command (NORTHCOM) and the commander of the Joint Task Force for Consequence Management for Exercise Unified Defense. This work is the first full-scale command post exercise to address the NORTHCOM mission to support homeland security. The team sets the radiation standard for anthrax mail irradiation, generates the weaponized anthrax radiation kill curve, certifies irradiation facilities in Ohio and New Jersey, provides quality assurance for Brentwood C1O2 sanitation and responds to nuclear and radiation crises.
2004—AFRRI receives the Department of Defense Joint Meritorious Unit Award for exceptionally meritorious achievements from Sept. 11, 2001 through June 20, 2003. This honor recognizes their response to acts of terrorism and nuclear and radiological threats at home and abroad.
2009—AFRRI is named a nuclear historic landmark by the American Nuclear Society [plaque, below]. This designation memorializes the outstanding physical accomplishments that have taken place at AFRRI over time.
2010—AFRRI celebrates 50 years as the primary source of medical nuclear and radiological research, preparedness and training in the United States.