WASHINGTON, Aug. 24— The Atomic Energy Commission staged a nuclear rocket accident in the Nevada desert in 1965 that sent a radioactive cloud more than 200 miles to Los Angeles, documents released today showed.
The newly released documents also showed that in 1960, military planes were sent through radioactive rocket exhaust, and radiation doses to flight crews were measured.
Details of both incidents were discovered in archival documents from the Energy Department, as part of a continuing inquiry into the Government’s secretive human radiation experiments during the cold war.
“Elements of the nuclear-powered rocket program should qualify as human experiments,” Representative Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who released the documents, wrote to Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary.
Mr. Markey also recommended that any future testing of a nuclear-powered rocket, in which both the Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have expressed interest, should proceed only after a public discussion of radiation protection measures and anticipated doses to workers and the public.
On Jan. 12, 1965, in Jackass Flats, Nev., part of a rocket’s nuclear core was intentionally vaporized so that scientists could study the behavior of the reactor and the environmental effects of the radiation, the documents showed.
“The U.S. Public Health Service monitored the neighborhood and collected milk samples in southern Nevada and California to beyond 200 miles downwind,” stated an abstract from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico, which collected environmental data from the test.
Although estimated radiation doses to humans beyond the test site were well below current limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, considerably more people were exposed than in other experiments because the cloud traveled so far, Mr. Markey said.
The cloud was tracked by aircraft, and increased radioactivity in routine air samples was observed in Barstow, San Bernadino, Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif., a few days after the explosion, according to the archive documents.
No radioactive materials were found in the milk samples, they said.
Another Los Alamos report detailed how in 1960, crews of B-57 bombers swallowed gamma film capsules and wore special lithium-shielded gamma film badges before flying through rocket exhaust to measure its radioactivity.
The report omits actual doses on classified grounds, but noted that it had been common practice, since 1950, to send aircraft to measure radioactive materials from nuclear tests.
The atomic agency was the forerunner of the Energy Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Mrs. O’Leary has made many documents available in an effort to open up the Government’s history of human radiation experimentation.
Mr. Markey, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released a Congressional report in 1986 describing 31 human experiments that had been financed by Federal agencies.