Downwind: A People's History of the Nuclear West
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Claudia Peterson, St. George, Utah By the time five-year-old Claudia returned to her swing set, a strangely colored cloud was all that remained of her flying saucer. Johnson Praeger, Read preview Overview. Lecain Rutgers University Press, Wilshire; Jane E.

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Nielson; Richard W. Hazlett Oxford University Press, We use cookies to deliver a better user experience and to show you ads based on your interests. The concentration of tests between Sept. Still, Hardtack ended quietly; there were no editorials in the area's newspapers and local columnists did not take note of the silence from the desert and hills to the west of the downwind towns. B Y - TEN YEARS after the start of the atomic testing - the downwinders began to experience something new in their communities: clusters of childhood leukemia, which at the time was 90 percent fatal.

During the next several years, leukemia appeared with increasing frequency in downwind families.


The distances of the animals varied from three quarters of a mile to two miles from ground zero. Nova Science Publishers Chernobyl Disaster , Find your bookmarks in your Independent Minds section, under my profile. Sperling's posts data and does city-to-city comparisons on many factors, including air and water quality on thier Web Site. Compilations of first person accounts of radiation effects on people witnessing atomic tests and living within the fallout zone. I had a bloody nose. A Washington Post book reviewer in called him "A one-man atomic truth squad and nuclear lie detector.

Although the incidence of all cancers in the southwest was 20 percent lower than in the nation as a whole, the Utah Cancer Registry reported that the incidence of acute leukemia in children in the four-county area downwind of the N. Between and , according to the Utah Department of Health, the rate of leukemia deaths in the same four-county region was the highest in the state.

In later years, other cancers - which can take longer to develop after radiation exposure - appeared in statistically significant percentages downwind of the Nevada Test Site. To the downwinders, the statistics represented a tragic and immediate reality. Frankie Bentley of Parowan, Utah, recalled the year vividly. Elmer Pickett, a store owner from St. George, told Senator Hatch, ''In my own family we have nine cancer victims, beginning with my wife who died of the disease and leukemia combined; my niece, 5 years old, from leukemia and cancer; a sister; a sister-in-law; a mother-in-law; an uncle; a grandmother, and two great uncles.

I cannot find anywhere in our family records, anywhere as far as we can go, any cancer-related deaths of any nature in our family lines. We have been a very healthy family here. To the downwinders, the cause of the cancer is not in doubt. Darrell Nisson, a rancher who lived in Washington, Utah, recalled at the hearing that ''up to the time of the radiation from the testing, I only knew of one leukemia death in Washington.


But since the testing, there have been six cases of leukemia, including my boy who used to help me in the canyons. Nisson's son died at the age of 13; Mr. Nisson himself succumbed to cancer in Gloria Gregerson, who lived in Bunkerville, Nev. We liked to play under the trees and shake the fallout onto our heads and our bodies, thinking that we were playing in the snow.

If my mother caught me as a young child, I would wash my hands; if not, then I would eat with the fallout on my hands. Gregerson was diagnosed in as having ovarian cancer; later, she contracted cancer of the intestines and stomach.

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In , she developed skin cancer in the vaginal area and, in , leukemia. She died in March , at the age of George told a television reporter in Her statement reflects the profound bitterness the downwinders harbor toward a Government they believe quietly acquiesced to, perhaps caused, the deaths of friends and family. There is a sad irony in the fact that these religious, conservative and patriotic small-town citizens believe they were, as the late Darrell Nisson put it, ''expendable. Gordon, the director of Citizens Call, one of several organizations established in Utah and Nevada to seek redress for victims of nuclear radiation and to halt all atomic testing.

Gordon witnessed the slow, painful death from pancreatic cancer of her year-old brother Kent, a rancher, who had been heavily dusted with radioactive debris from several dirty blasts. For the downwinders who have gone to Federal courts for compensation for their suffering, the difficult task has been to prove that the cancers and leukemia are ''more likely than not'' caused by exposure to radiation produced by the nuclear tests in the 's, the proof required by the Federal Tort Claims Act.


The principal litigation advancing the downwinders' claim, Allen et al. United States, has been opposed consistently by the Federal Government since it was filed by 24 cancer victims and their relatives in August The Government has denied that radiation from its atomic tests in the 's was the direct cause of the downwinders' illnesses and deaths.

But another part of the Government's defense in the case rests on a claim of immunity from liability for any decisions that may have adversely affected the downwinders. Even if the Atomic Energy Commission had been aware of the risks associated with radiation, ''The United States denies that it had the responsibility of notifying its citizens of any potential health hazards.

That determination is a matter properly the subject of executive discretion,'' maintained the Government's attorneys in a statement submitted during the lawsuit's discovery period in November Ultimately, the legal conflict may have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. For the downwinders, the Government's rejection of its presumed duty to protect its citizens is almost as painful as the cancers they have suffered. Her neighbor Frankie Bentley, echoing a phrase commonly heard throughout the downwind communities a quarter-century after the end of the atomic testing, says simply: ''Our Government lied to us.

Please upgrade your browser. See next articles. View page in TimesMachine. Commissioner Willard Frank Libby, also testifying in , contrasted the ''very small and rigidly controlled risk'' posed by fallout with the greater ''risk of annihilation.


Newsletter Sign Up Continue reading the main story Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box. Invalid email address. Please re-enter. You must select a newsletter to subscribe to. Sign Up. You will receive emails containing news content , updates and promotions from The New York Times. You may opt-out at any time. You agree to receive occasional updates and special offers for The New York Times's products and services. In two media outlets in Salt Lake City—television station KUTV and the Deseret News —belatedly alerted the country to the possible adverse health effects of fallout by telling the Paul Cooper story.

Cooper claimed his leukemia was caused by the fallout exposure he received during military maneuvers associated with shot Smoky at the NTS in Fallout City downwinders soon found their voice, telling their stories to a crew filming the documentary titled Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang. Stories by downwinders told of fallout "snow" that burned their fingers, their faces, and other exposed body parts. Others told of family members afflicted with cancer.

Then in the fall of Stewart Udall and a team of lawyers reported that downwinders' cancer rates had reached epidemic levels. According to Philip L. After interviewing people during a four-day period in October , the Washington lawyer said the enormity of the situation was shocking, cancer rates were three or four times greater than normal.

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At a press conference held to announce plans for a class-action lawsuit against the United States, Udall was quoted saying he was stunned by the abnormally high number of suspected fallout cancer victims. Udall would later write: "The sturdy Mormon families [are] struggling with tragedies inflicted by a cancer epidemic foisted on them by the Atomic Energy Commission. Udall and Associates eventually composed a list of 1, plaintiffs consisting of heirs of deceased cancer victims or individuals still surviving with cancer. The list of cancer victims totaled actual cases drawn from many counties in Utah and some outside Utah , including deceased cancer victims and surviving cancer victims.

Two dozen of these plaintiffs were picked for the Allen et al. The national publications and networks picked up the downwinders' story. The following quote is from People magazine: "Reputable scientist now suspect that the test caused a phenomenally high rate of cancer and thyroid disease among residents of St.

Later in the station produced another documentary called Downwinders. Irma Thomas, one of St. George's leading citizens, became known nationwide. Her story of a St. Television networks also covered her story. A number of popular books appeared about downwinders suffering all sorts of health problems—cancer, birthing a defective child, having a miscarriage and so on. These books laying bare the details of a government cover-up were rushed into print.

Cancer had never been a noticeable problem before [in southwestern Utah]. But, as the s wore on, and for decades afterward, the ravaging effects came like a pestilence in serial form: leukemia, usually the quickest to result from radiation exposure, came first; numerous types of cancer George, Utah Within a few years, a plague of cancer and birth defects had ripped through the area—a plague that may have caused the cancer-related deaths of John Wayne and over other cast and crew members of The Conqueror.

After the Allen trial ended in , thirteen years passed with diminished public concern nationwide about the health effects resulting from exposure to fallout. Then the release of the National Cancer Institute's report on nationwide exposure to radioactive iodine from the NTS led to renewed interest in fallout-caused cancers especially in Idaho and Montana but also across continental United States.

All Americans living in the s became aware that they too are downwinders. Other events provided additional local stimuli for renewed interest in downwinders' stories. Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of Eastern and Midwestern interests, proposed to store nuclear waste temporarily in western Utah.

Another company, now known as Energy Solutions, wanted to bring in radioactive waste from overseas. At a number of town meetings in southern Utah sponsored by The National Research Council, charged with reviewing the guidelines for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, many downwinders showed up to tell heart-wrenching stories of fallout-induced cancers. A few years later our government proposed conducting a non-nuclear explosion called Divine Strake at the NTS that would stir up residual fallout particles. More recently rumors that radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear reactor may be dangerous to people in the United States caused a run on potassium iodide at drug stores in St.

Atomic Hollywood

All of these stimuli caused Utah media to periodically feature downwinders' stories—three pages worth in a recent issue of the Deseret News and nearly seven pages worth in a recent issue of The Spectrum , a southwestern Utah daily. The Utah nuclear tragedy is comprehensively re-evaluated herein by focusing on what is now known about both the short-term and long-term health effects of radioactive fallout exposure to Utah downwinders, and on the history of the controversy surrounding the claims that mushroom clouds over Utah seriously impacted the health of the residents of southwestern Utah.

The controversy is considered from the perspectives of the downwinders, the government, radiation protection scientists, and writers of six popular books.