October 31, 1997
Fear not the atom in fission;
The cradle will outwit the hearse;
Man on this earth has a mission--
To survive and go on getting worse.
Samuel Hoffenstein, 1947
In the 1950s and '60s, the U.S.government exploded over a hundred atomic bombs in Nevada. Some parts of the country received very heavy radioactive fallout from those blasts. The town of St.George, Utah received such a heavy amount that some of its residents showed many of the symptoms of acute radiation sickness.
Now, 40 years later, it is in the news and people are being told that children who drank milk from cows in those heavy fallout areas are at increased risk of developing thyroid cancer, caused by Iodine-131.
I lived in Salt Lake City at the time and worked at the University of Utah. One incident was told to me by Dr. Robert Pendleton. Bob was a radiation ecologist and was also the university's radiation safety officer. We were good friends and he taught me all that I know, which is not much, about hunting and radiation. His research dealt with following radioactive substances in wild animals and plants.
One day, Bob was taking his student on a field trip in the hills behind the university. They were checking the soil and various plants for radioactivity. They saw a dust cloud approaching, which is not unusual in Salt Lake. When the cloud reached them, their Geiger counters went wild. The cloud apparently came from Nevada and it was highly radioactive. That was Dr. Pendleton's introduction to the fiasco that is just now being reported on the news.
The great tragedy is that the exposure of children to Iodine-131 was totally unnecessary. Iodine-131 has a short half life. If the dairy farmers in the Cache Valley, Utah's dairyland, which got the heaviest fallout, were warned about it, they could have diverted all of the milk to cheese production. By the time the cheese was ready for market, almost all of the radioactive iodine would have decayed and the cheese would be relatively safe. I say relatively, because iodine is not the only radioactive substance present in fallout.
Not only were the people who were exposed not warned, but the Atomic Energy Commission denied that it ever happened; as they did with all of the fallout incidents. Their standard operating procedure was to lie, lie, lie to the public. The behavior of those in charge was flagrantly criminal. I believe that those people are criminals, and that they should be punished accordingly. There was a "cold" war on, so it was unacceptable to irradiate the "enemy." Irradiating friends and their children was okay.
The journalists who recently reported those incidents sounded shocked. That was because they weren't around when it was happening. At the time, not many people seemed to take it seriously; unless they happened to be living in St.George, Utah. Those people took it very seriously when a number of them developed radiation sickness, and later, leukemia. Still the Atomic Energy Commission(AEC), now the Department of Energy(DOE), denied any responsibility.
In a war, cold or hot, it is considered okay to kill or disable the enemy. In this case, the weapons were directed against our own people. The consequences of those Nevada tests were well known, but at the time not a single person in power lifted a finger to try to stop it.
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