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Scientists Conduct Tests in Reactor on Remains of Zachary Taylor

June 23, 1991

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Scientists Friday irradiated parts of the remains of President Zachary Taylor in an uranium-fueled reactor to determine if the nation's 12th President died of arsenic poisoning.

Hair and nail samples taken last week in an exhumation in Louisville, Ky., were delivered to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The samples were placed in the lab's High Flux Isotope Reactor, the Department of Energy's most powerful research reactor, and bombarded with neutrons.

Larry Robinson of the lab's analytical chemistry division said arsenic releases a distinctive gamma ray after irradiation, which means the nuclear technology can detect and measure microscopic quantities of the poison.

Lab spokesman Joe Culver said it was unclear how long it will take to complete the tests. He said the results will be turned over to Dr. George Nichols, Kentucky's chief medical examiner.

Nichols agreed to the testing in at attempt to confirm an author's theory that Taylor died of arsenic poisoning in 1850. At the time, the cause of death was considered gastroenteritis.

The technique being used is known as neutron activation analysis, a nuclear technology pioneered several years ago at the lab.

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