CANBERRA, June 5 - Australia launched an investigation on Tuesday into reports that the bodies of Australian babies were sent to the United States for use in nuclear energy experiments in the 1950s and 1960s.
Health Minister Michael Wooldridge said he was not aware of an alleged operation in which the babies' bodies were shipped overseas for research purposes without their parents' permission.
British newspapers this week that the bodies of stillborn babies and infants were snatched from Australian hospitals for use in U.S. Department of Energy tests to monitor radioactivity levels of the element Strontium 90.
"Project Sunshine," the reports said, began in 1955 when University of Chicago doctor Willard Libby, who was awarded a Nobel prize for his research into carbon dating, appealed for bodies, preferably stillborn or newly-born babies, to test atomic bomb fallout.
The reports said about 6,000 bodies were taken from hospitals in Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, the United States and South America over 15 years without the permission of parents.
"Obviously the information that has come to light is very disturbing and the minister has asked his department for information," a spokesman for Wooldridge told Reuters.
He said the minister was seeking hospital records from that era from the relevant health authorities in Australia's six states and two territories.
This was the second report of humans being used in nuclear tests to emerge in Australia in the past month.
Australia last month raised allegations its troops were used as human guinea pigs during British atom bomb tests in the 1950s to test protective clothing in low-radiation nuclear tests at Maralinga in the South Australian outback.
Britain told the European Court of Human Rights in 1997 that no humans had ever been experimented on during its atom bomb tests, but documents unearthed in Australia's National Archives by a Scottish researcher contradicted this.