If you have ever watched the movie “The Hills Have Eyes” then you saw the mutated people who lived in a remote area out west that looked like an old nuclear test site, well that’s because it was. The movie is based in part off the Nevada Test Site and the victims from the fallout who were called “downwinders”, due to their being downwind from the government’s tests back in the 50’s. The movie is obviously fiction and portrays a made up story of people who encountered survivors from the tests and ended up being butchered. While the movie may be fiction, what happened in Nevada and the people who lived there and Utah isn’t.
In 1950 Harry Truman signed a bill allowing the U.S. Government to conduct nuclear tests on American soil. These sites included an area in Nevada and an area in Washington State due to their low populations and favorable eastern winds which kept the fallout from blowing towards the heavily populated state of California. In fact, one of the bureaucrats in charge of choosing the area called it a “low-use segment of the population,” and another called them “a hell of a place to dump used razor blades,” showing just how much they valued the live of the residents there.
The Nevada site was located just north of Las Vegas in a remote area that the government owned that covered several hundred square miles. It was used primarily for what are called “atmospheric tests” which is where the bombs were detonated above the ground at different levels so they could see their effectiveness. The first bomb was dropped over the area in 1951 and that started what would be seven years of hell for the people who lived in the area.
The problem was that the clouds of radiation that were produced couldn’t be contained to just the land the government owned and they would drift into neighboring communities. The people living there were told by our government to stay outside and watch the explosions while wearing the radiation badges they were given, then officials from the Atomic Energy Commission would come through, round up the badges and see how badly they were exposed. The whole time they were being exposed to the pink clouds they were told that they wouldn’t be harmed by them, in fact the government said they were non-toxic so that people didn’t get scared and stay inside. There would be children playing outside while they drifted by, people out for walks, etc. and the whole time they had no idea they were being exposed to heavy doses of radiation until strange things started happening to them out of the blue.
The main radioactive particle in the clouds was Iodine 131, or radioiodine, which kills the cells it penetrates and those up to a few millimeters away causing thyroid cancer, leukemia, and major reproductive harm. Even though it only has a half life of 8 days, it can do serious amounts of harm to the body in that time and can even be lethal if someone is exposed to enough of it.
So as the residents become more exposed to the pink clouds of radiation they started noticing their livestock was becoming ill, some would have lesions on their lips from ingesting radiation covered grass, they were miscarrying their babies, babies were stillborn or so weak they couldn’t nurse and with massive deformities, and sheep had their wool falling off and exposing blisters and such underneath.
The AEC sent out a team of scientists to investigate but the farmers had already destroyed the animals to prevent contamination of others. It was reported that the AEC investigators were forced to scrub their reports to take anything that had to do with radiation poisoning out of them so that it couldn’t be held liable for any damages as a result.
Within 3-5 years after the testing people in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada started getting leukemias and other radiation caused cancers. There was a surge in tumors and miscarriages, as well as infertility and birth defects.
Even though there’s no concrete evidence linking the increase in illnesses to the government’s testing, a look at the statistics of the types of illnesses and when the atmospheric testing started shows a definite correlation between them, and a House Committee hearing in 1979 found that the government was negligent regarding the cause of the illnesses.
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In spite of the findings of the committee hearings, many lawsuits have since been brought against the government regarding the radiation poisoning and what it did to the people exposed. In Irene Allen v. The United States, 24 plaintiffs represented 1200 different people who were either related to or had died from a radiation related illness in the areas. There was a ray of hope for them when a judge issued a ruling in their favor awarding some of them monetary damages but the government would appeal and the Tenth Circuit would overturn the decision in 1986.
In 1988 the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal again from the plaintiffs, however in 1990 Congress passed a bill that created the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, and it was signed into law by President George Bush. It created a $100 million trust fund for the victims of the testing and after 40 years of denial assumed responsibility for what happened, it said “The United States should recognize and assume responsibility for the harm done to these individuals. And Congress recognizes that the lives and health of uranium miners and of innocent individuals who lived downwind from the Nevada tests were involuntarily subjected to increased risk of injury and disease to serve the national security interests of the United States. The Congress apologizes on behalf of the Nation to the individuals…and their families for the hardship they have endured.”
In all it’s untold just how many people fell victim to the tests that happened back then. Radiation was found in water supplies as far away as New York and even as late as 2007 tests on other bombs has been halted for fear of stirring up the radiation left from the tests. Some have attributed the nationwide spike in cancer in America after that time to the testing as well, although again it’s only statistically that a connection can be made.
One thing is for certain, the government used the naivete of people and their trust in government to be able to use them to study the effects of the atomic bomb so those who still trust that the government wouldn’t put us in harms way for its own benefit should really reconsider their position.