Document Sample
					The Continuing Fallout from Nuclear Testing
The era of nuclear testing began in earnest on January 27, 1951 at the Nevada Test Site with the Ranger Able test. At least 100 atmospheric tests were conducted between 1951 and the atmospheric test ban in 1962. Radioactive fallout from atomic testing in Nevada reached far beyond the borders of that state. Fallout, no respecter of arbitrary lines on a map, was picked up by the jet stream and carried across the United States where it was tracked as far east as New York, raining out over communities across the nation.
Areas Crossed by Three or More Nuclear Clouds From Atmospheric Testing 1951-62

Reprinted with permission From Richard L. Miller’s Under the Clouds: The Decades of Nuclear Testing

Two days after the Atomic Energy Commission began testing nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site in 1951, Eastman Kodak's Rochester, New York film production facilities began producing batches of film that were clouded by the effects of radiation generated in Nevada. When Kodak complained, the AEC agreed to provide Kodak and other photographic companies advance warning of nuclear tests so they could protect the film. The American people were never granted the same courtesy. 1 Bill Heller, in his 2002 book, A Good Day Has No Rain, documents the far-reaching impact of fallout on one area 2,300 miles from the Nevada Test Site. Fallout from the April 25, 1953 test named Simon blanketed upstate New York during a particularly violent rainstorm. During the storm, scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York documented alarmingly high levels of radioactive fallout. 2

Makhijani, Arjun and Scwartz, Stephen I., “Victims of the Bomb,” Atomic Audit: The Cost and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, Stephen I. Schwartz, Editor. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institutional Press, 1998, page 396.

Heller, Bill, A Good Day Has No Rain, Albany, NY: Whitston Publishing, 2003, page 148.


In The U.S. Atlas of Nuclear Fallout 1951-1962, Richard Miller correlates levels of fallout with cancer rates county by county across the United States using data from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control. His list of 24 areas across the country hit hardest by fallout includes Upstate New York, large sections of Missouri, Nantucket County Massachusetts, Aroostock County Maine, Gem County Idaho, Haywood County Tennessee, and Southern Iowa among others. 3 During the years of atmospheric testing, Col. Langdon Harris flew planes through radioactive fallout clouds across the country to track fallout patterns and collect samples. Harris claims there’s not anyone who lived in the U.S. during the years of atomic testing who is not a downwinder. 4 The 1997 National Cancer Institute study, ordered by Congress, showed that every county in the contiguous United States was exposed to some level of radioactive Iodine (I131) from nuclear testing.
Figure TS-4 from the 1997 National Cancer Institute Study Per capita thyroid doses resulting from all exposure routes from all tests

The NCI study concluded that as many as 75,000 lifetime cases of thyroid cancer alone in the U.S. are related to nuclear testing conducted in Nevada. 5 Unfortunately, the study looked

Email from Richard Miller, June, 2003, based on The U.S. Atlas of Nuclear Fallout: 1951-1962: Total Fallout, Woodland Texas: Legis Books, 2002. 4 Gallagher, Carole, American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War, MIT Press, 1998, page xxv. 5 The 1997 National Cancer Institute Study, “Estimated Exposures and Thyroid Disease Doses Received by the American People from Iodine-131 in Fallout Following Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests,” also said that only 45 percent of the I-131 related thyroid cancers have appeared, NCI dose reconstruction shows (-131 exposure was sufficient to cause and continue to cause excess cases of thyroid cancer. A full report is available at


only at the health consequences of I-131, which constitutes a mere 2 percent of radioisotopes contained in fallout. No studies have been conducted on the health effects of the other 98 percent of radioactive isotopes in fallout, many of them far more dangerous than I-131. For instance, Strontium-90, with a half-life of more than 30 years, is absorbed by bone and teeth and leads to bone and breast cancer, as well as leukemia.

The Far-Reaching Impacts of “Underground” Testing
Moving testing underground, where it continued until 1992, did not necessarily make it safer. Many of the 804 underground tests in Nevada released significant amounts of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere, where it, too, was picked up by the jet stream and carried across the country, exposing countless Americans. An analysis of DOE data conducted in the early 1990s by Downwinders showed that 54 percent of all underground tests in Nevada leaked. For this reason, there is no such thing as a completely underground test.
“Underground” Test Sedan, July 6, 1962

The Sedan test, detonated on July 6, 1962, was a 104-kiloton device buried 635 feet beneath the earth. It displaced approximately 12 million tons of earth, creating a crater 1,280 feet wide and 320 feet deep. At 10,000 feet, Sedan’s first radioactive cloud traveled over Utah, crossing Salt Lake City. The cloud continued over Cheyenne, Wyoming, through Nebraska and Illinois and across the country to the Atlantic Ocean. At 16,000 feet Sedan's upper level cloud followed a path just south of Pocatello, Idaho and went across the United States slightly farther north all the the way to the Atlantic Ocean. 6

1997 National Cancer Institute Study, “Estimated Exposures and Thyroid Disease Doses Received by the American People from Iodine-131 in Fallout Following Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests,”


Crater from Sedan Shot

Estimated Trajectories of Sedan from the NCI Web Site


“Underground” Shot Baneberry, December 18, 1970

Shot Baneberry, detonated December 18, 1970, was buried 900 feet below ground. It spewed radioactive debris 10,000 feet into the atmosphere, where it was picked up by the jet stream and carried at three different levels northward into Canada, eastward to the Atlantic Ocean and southward to the Gulf of Mexico respectively. 7


1997 National Cancer Institute Study, “Estimated Exposures and Thyroid Disease Doses Received by the American People from Iodine-131 in Fallout Following Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests,”


Trajectories of Baneberry from NCI Web Site

As these examples show, radiation released through “underground” testing does not necessarily remain underground. The U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment in an October 1988 study concluded that since 1970, 126 underground tests resulted in radioactive material reaching the atmosphere. While safeguards were built into each test to protect against radioactive release, the OTC stated, “there can never be 100 percent confidence that a test will not release radioactive material.” 8 In addition, the Lawrence Livermore Lab says it can detect any underground testing because of radioactive gases that escape through natural fissures and fault lines.9 The 1997 NCI study documented fallout from underground testing through 1970. The map in Fig. UE/S/DC on the next page does not show the doses for all years of underground testing, which continued through 1992.


U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, The Containment of Underground Nuclear Explosions, OTA-ISC-414 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, October 1989). Available online at:


Lawrence Livermore Web site,


The Consequences
The fallout from nuclear tests had far-reaching consequences for public health. In addition to direct exposure, radioactive fallout contaminates dairy and agricultural products, working its way into the food chain and the human body, where it alters the process of cell division, leading to cancers and other diseases that might not show up for years or even decades after exposure. The 1997 NCI Study and other studies have shown a link between exposure to radioactive fallout and cancer. The federal government has acknowledged that at least 11,000 cancer deaths were related to fallout. Through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, the government approved compensation claims for downwinders in parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona who have suffered one of 13 fallout-related cancers. In addition to leukemia and multiple myeloma, the cancers that are covered include thyroid, bone, lung, breast, pancreas, ovary, stomach, liver, skin and bladder. Unfortunately, funds for compensation have run out and many downwinders are being issued IOUs. Estimates of the actual number of cancers caused by fallout vary. John Gofman, who worked at Los Alamos and has written the definitive book on radiation exposure, says the government underestimated by 20 times the cancers caused by testing.10 Radiation exposure leads to illnesses besides cancer, including immune system disorders, birth defects and genetic damage, which can be passed on to future generations. Studies also have shown that once a person has been exposed to radiation, that individual is more vulnerable to subsequent exposures, thus increasing the possibility of contracting a radiation-related illness. Children, in particular, are vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiation exposure.

Gallagher, Carole, American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War, Boston MA: MIT Press, 1998, John Gofman interview, pages xxvi and 326.


The important dairy and agricultural states of the Midwest were exposed to heavy levels of fallout on numerous occasions, resulting in significant public exposure to radioactive isotopes, many of which concentrate in produce and in cow and goat milk.

The Threat of Resumed Testing
As part of the 2005 Defense Authorization Bill, the administration has included $30 million for a modern pit facility that would produce 450 plutonium pits; $27.5 million the 100kiloton “bunker buster;” $ 9 million for low-yield battlefield weapons, below 5-kiloton; and $25 million to prepare the Nevada Test so that it can be ready for a nuclear test within 18 months of a presidential order. How can allocating millions to prepare the NTS for testing be viewed as anything but preparing for the resumption of nuclear weapons testing? Both the Deseret News in Salt Lake City and the Las Vegas Journal Review have reported that Frank von Hippel, a former White House adviser on national security and one of those responsible for arranging the 1992 moratorium on nuclear testing, said that a Defense Department official told him earlier this year that if re-elected, the Bush administration would resume testing in 2007 or 2008. Due to the unique nature of underground bunkers, nuclear weapons designed to breach them will inevitably require field testing, making resumed nuclear testing a virtual certainty. Princeton University physicist Robert W. Nelson has said that there is no such thing as a “clean” nuclear weapon. Even a very small nuclear bunker-buster could blow out a huge crater, ejecting a massive cloud of radioactive dust and debris into the atmosphere. Furthermore, an explosion caused by bunker-testing devices meant to destroy deeply buried chemical and biological weapons would not sterilize those agents, but rather would disperse them into the surrounding environment. Larger nuclear yields necessary to destroy targets buried deep underground would create considerably more fallout. The appropriate question is therefore not whether nuclear earth penetrators will contaminate the atmosphere with radioactivity, but rather how much radioactivity will be produced. 11 The National Nuclear Security Administration claims that "underground" tests, should they resume, will be relatively small with few if any serious consequences for public health. We’ve heard similar assurances in the past, but experience shows just how far-reaching the unintended consequences of nuclear testing can be. Given what we now know about the human toll of nuclear testing, Downwinders Opposed to Nuclear Testing takes a firm stand against even the possibility of resumed nuclear testing and against the funding mechanisms that could bring testing about. Because the extent and effects of fallout were not publicly acknowledged during the years of nuclear testing, the public was largely ignorant of the potential for contamination. Now that such contamination and its consequences have been documented, the public is not likely to ignore the health risks – no matter how minimal.


Nelson, Robert W., “Nuclear Bunker Busters, Mini-Nukes, and the US Nuclear Stockpile,” Physics Today, November 2003.


Please do everything in your power to prevent the resumption of nuclear testing.