Media Beat: NEVADA A-TESTS A TRAGEDY 50 YEARS IN MAKING
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- As golden anniversaries go, it's a somber occasion. = In a forlorn expanse of desert scarcely an hour's drive northwest of Las Ve= gas, on Jan. 27, 1951, the Nevada Test Site went into operation by explodin= g an atomic bomb.
During more than a decade, mushroom clouds often rose toward the s= ky. Winds routinely carried radioactive fallout to communities in Utah, Nev= ada and northern Arizona. Meanwhile, news media dutifully conveyed U.S. Ato= mic Energy Commission announcements to downwind residents: "There is no dan= ger."
In the region, journalists followed the national media spin and t= hrew in some extra bravado. "'Baby' A-Blast May Provide Facts on Defense Ag= ainst Atomic Attack," said a headline in the Las Vegas Sun on March 13,1955= .
That week brought the unveiling of a taller detonation tower -- 5= 00 feet instead of the previous 300-foot height. The Las Vegas Review-Journ= al informed readers that the change would make them even more secure: "Use = of taller towers from which atomic devices are detonated at the Nevada Test= Site introduces an added angle of safety to residents living outside the c= onfines of the Atomic Energy Commission's continental testing ground, nucle= ar scientists believe."
Eleven days later, when the "added angle of safety" did not preve= nt a hot storm of radioactive particles from blanketing the city, the Revie= w-Journal reported that the day's events were benign. "Fallout on Las Vegas= and vicinity following this morning's detonation was very low and without= any effects on health," the newspaper explained.
Pundits of the day were eagerly patrolling ideological frontiers for the= benefit of all Americans. The Los Angeles Examiner published a colu= mn by International News Service writer Jack Lotto under the headline "On Y= our Guard: Reds Launch 'Scare Drive' Against U.S. Atomic Tests." The articl= e warned: "A big Communist 'fear' campaign to force Washington to stop all = American atomic hydrogen bomb tests erupted this past week."
It was a popular theme among prominent commentators like syndicated colu= mnist David Lawrence, whose wisdom appeared in the Washington Post a= nd other leading newspapers. "The truth is," he wrote in Spring 1955, "ther= e isn't the slightest proof of any kind that the 'fallout' as a result of t= ests in Nevada has ever affected any human being anywhere outside the testi= ng ground itself."
By then, children and others living in downwind areas were beginning to = develop leukemia. As time passed, people in affected areas suffered extraor= dinarily high rates of cancer and thyroid ills. Functioning in tandem, the = news media and the federal government continued to deny that nuclear testin= g was a health hazard.
In August 1980, nearly three decades after the Nevada site opened for nu= clear business, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight= and Investigations concluded: "All evidence suggesting that radiation was = having harmful effects, be it on the sheep or the people, was not only disr= egarded but actually suppressed."
That assessment was no surprise to thousands of downwind residents like = Jay Truman, who grew up in southwestern Utah under the shadow of the test s= ite. After watching many friends die, he had no interest in pretending that= the U.S. government did not kill his schoolmates.
When I met Truman in 1980, he was already an expert on nucleartesting. T= oday, as director of the Downwinders organization(www.downwinders.org), he'= s still fighting the good fight.
From the Rockies to remote Russian sites, nuclear industries have taken = an enormous toll. Victims include Native American uranium miners, nuclear-p= lant workers and far-flung residents, soldiers exposed to atomic bomb tests= at close range, Pacific islanders, and people whose lives were forever cha= nged during a few split seconds in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"Nuclear testing made the Cold War possible," Truman said a few days ago= . "Without it, humanity could never have developed and deployed the weapo= ns that still stand ever-ready to wipe our species off this planet." Unable= to admit the inevitable health effects of nuclear tests, "all governments = of all testing nations learned how to -- and perfected being able to -- lie= to their own citizens."
Fifty years after the first mushroom cloud overshadowed the Nevada deser= t, military contractors and their allies are eager to spread the news about= the latest technologies offering "an added angle of safety." In 2001, Star= Wars is back on the media horizon. It's never too late to make a killing.<= p> Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. He co-authored (with Harvey Wa= sserman) the 1982 book "Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America's Experien= ce With Atomic Radiation."