Jan. 27, 2013 marks the 61st anniversary of the start of nuclear testing in Nevada. Testing. Started and maintained throughout, with the promise that "There IS no danger. We repeat there is No danger!" And that any injuries that might occur to people and animals would promptly be addressed when claims were filed. Sixteen horses were indeed compensated for beta burns on their backs. All claims for injuries to the people downwind were rejected at best with the claim that fallout exposures were not significant enough to have caused their cancers. More often in letters from the AEC and public statements that concerns testing was causing cancers was "Communist propaganda!" Testing went forward with over 100 open air tests raining fallout across the west and dozens of leaks from over 900 underground tests. Justice for excess cancers cases was absent, but the steady loss of lives downwind was not!
In those areas closest to the test site where we had witnessed the tests and its fallout there was no question what was causing the increasing cancers. Those farther away realized something was happening but did not understand what. Even when they, as is so much the case in Idaho, had received as much fallout and when it came to the deadly iodine 131 even more. By the early 1970s we were organizing and demanding studies and justice for our injuries. The West's other downwinders, equally exposed and harmed didn't even know they were downwinders. Nor tragically did their politicians. In the end the original bills which did include other areas of the West, was cut down to cover just 21 counties in extreme Southern Utah, Eastern Nevada and Northern Arizona, with a small list of "politically acceptable cancers" and a small amount of compensation that wouldn't cover your first round of chemo!
There is a great deal of difference between true Justice in the RECA ACT and some small token tossed to just us for political expedience to shut up the loudest voices demanding the real thing for those exposed! The fight has gone on. It still goes on now twenty years after the first RECA Act was passed. And what has happened since? On the one hand the constant demand for studies to back the downwinders' claims has produced the 1997 NCI I-131 proving areas of Idaho and Montana and other areas of the West received more Iodine 131 fallout to their thyroids than we did! This highest dose was in a county in central Montana, followed by four across northern Idaho starting with Gem County and then and only then, my home county Washington in South West Utah. The 40 year study done on the thyroids of nearly 4,000 of us students there found that IF we develop thyroid cancer during our life the probability will be in the 70 and 80 percents that the bomb did it and we can obtain $50,000 in RECA compensation. In Gem County, where doses would be as high and often even higher, downwinders cannot get one damned penny! Basically told by the Government that did it to them to go away and suffer and die quietly.
Following the NCI report attention finally was given to Idaho's downwinders. Exposure of their plight by the state's newspapers lead by the Emmett Messenger Index and then the Idaho Statesman, reached the eyes of not only the public but most importantly their senators who acted and meant it! Joining with other Western senators especially those of New Mexico and Colorado they have filed, tried to get hearings and things moving, received little support from other members and not giving up have filed and refiled new bills every Congressional term and will do so again come January.
They have tried and will continue to. And they deserve and need the support of all downwinders. Most vitally they need all downwinders to take a lesson from the bright side of our fight for justice, that the louder you demand, the louder you bitch, the more and the sooner the rest of the government will have to act, even only to try unsuccessfully to shut us up.Why? Because as the years tick by more and more downwinders are as we say are getting dealt their finally fallout card as they age and the latency periods following exposure catch up. Knowing this the government that did those tests know that if they can only delay long enough -- enough years -- Delaying justice until there aren't enough Downwinders left to demand it! Justice and admissions will not happen. It's up to us to support the sponsors of the bills in their fights and raise and sustain our voices. We owe it to our lost love ones and to our selves and to future generations to insure it cannot ever happen again!