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Government Resources: Health, Disability, Safety, Nutrition and Fitness: Radiation Sickness

Radation Sickness Key Web Links

What is Radiation Sickness?

The complex of symptoms characterizing the disease known as radiation injury, resulting from excessive exposure (greater than 200 rads or 2 gray) of the whole
body (or large part) to ionizing radiation. The earliest of these symptoms are nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea, which may be followed by loss of hair
(epilation), hemorrhage, inflammation of the mouth and throat, and general loss of energy. In severe cases, where the radiation exposure has been approximately 1000 rad (10 gray) or more, death may occur within two to four weeks. Those who survive six weeks after the receipt of a single large dose of radiation to the whole body may generally be expected to recover. Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Atomic Bomb Testing in Nevada: Downwinders

After World War II, the U.S. military continued its interest in developing new weapons. In particular, it wanted to improve the atomic bomb. The government looked for a place to test these weapons. The ideal area would be flat, not very populated, and with good weather conditions--meaning that the wind would blow the debris, or fallout, away from big concentrations of people. 

The government found that area in the southern Nevada desert, not too far away from where crews trained for the Enola Gay bombing missions.

The first test bomb exploded over the Nevada desert on January 27, 1951.  The fallout drifted east, into southwest Utah.  The commission that oversaw testing, the Atomic Energy Commission, promised residents of southern Nevada and Utah that the testing was safe, and residents believed them.  Even when livestock began dying, many of the residents didn’t question what the government was telling them. 

Unfortunately, the Atomic Energy Commission lied, and they did it knowingly.  Their own scientists knew that radioactive fallout could kill or harm both animals and people,  but the Commission did nothing to warn residents or stop testing.

By 1953, sheep in Iron County showed clear symptoms of radiation poisoning.  Animals had burns on their face from eating radioactive grass. Birth rates dropped as animals miscarried at an increasing rate. Many of the young were born so deformed or sick that they did not live long past birth.

The Commission investigated the livestock deaths and deformities, but it falsified the reports so that no one knew that Iron County was slowly being poisoned by radioactive fallout.  It was not until a Congressional investigation uncovered the massive fraud of the Commission in 1979 that the real picture began to come to light.  By then it was too late for many families in the area.

Many believe that there are too many cases of leukemia, infertility, and birth defects in these communities to be a coincidence.  Those affected by the testing fallout call themselves “Downwinders,” because the wind blew radiation from the test site over their communities.

Many people filed lawsuits against the government, and though the courts have been reluctant to state for sure that the testing caused cancer and other problems, Congress passed a compensation bill in 1990 that apologized and provided money to help survivors deal with their diseases and other problems that may have been caused by the Nevada testing.  Source: Utah Division of State History

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