(May 27, 2005) What happened 25 years ago? We go back to news from our 1980 WISE Bulletin, comparing anti-nuclear news then and now.
In WISE Bulletin vol. 2 nr. 3 we wrote about a citizens' hearing for radiation victims: "During the past 35 years, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, nuclear workers and private citizens were exposed to ionizing radiation from nuclear weapons, detonations and from nuclear facilities. On April 11-14 those people will receive recognition at 'Citizens' Hearings for Radiation Victims' in Washington DC." (WISE Bulletin, March/April 1980)
The U.S. tested a total of 1,054 nuclear devices between 1945 and 1992. Until 1963 a total of 289 atmospheric tests were conducted in the Pacific and Nevada test site, releasing large amounts of radioactivity into the air. Soldiers, at close proximity to the blasts, were exposed to the radiation and at larger distances citizens were exposed due to radioactive plumes ('downwinders'). Many people were also exposed to radiation in the weapons production facilities, such as uranium mines. (www.nuclearweaponarchive.org, 6 August 2001)
After long-term lobbying and pressure building, the US currently has two programs of financial compensation for damage to health. In 1990 the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was adopted. The RECA recognizes past activities and illnesses (workers and citizens) that can be related to radiation exposure. Claims made by 10,000 people have been recognized, most being uranium workers, downwinders (near the Nevada site) and workers employed at the test site. In total about US$770 million has been allocated.
The US Department of Veteran Affairs is responsible for claims from ex-soldiers. Some 400,000 US-soldiers were exposed to radiation by US nuclear explosions (including Japan, 1945). In some cases, past radiation exposure must be reassessed before compensation can be recognized. Veterans' organizations fear that these calculations are based on incomplete and incorrect data: unreliable radiation monitoring data, missing and re-occurring archives. (Research Laka Foundation, April 2003)
In 2000, the newspaper USA Today revealed that some 300 private companies were involved in early nuclear weapons production. Neither the companies nor the government ever told the thousands of workers that they were exposed to hazardous levels of radiation, frequently hundreds of times higher than the limits considered acceptable in those days. At least one-third of those companies did not protect workers with proper equipment. Not only were the workers exposed to health hazards, but many people in the communities surrounding these facilities were also exposed as the companies dumped toxic into air, soil and water. (WISE News Communique 535, 6 October 2000)
According to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), an estimated 80,000 people who lived in or were born in the U.S. between 1951 and 2000 will have contracted or will contract cancer as a result of the fallout caused by atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. Some 17,000 of these cases are expected to be fatal. IEER made the calculations in 2002 after having studied a 1997 report by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The report showed that between 11,300 and 212,000 U.S. citizens were estimated to develop thyroid cancer because of milk contaminated by iodine-131 from testing at the Nevada site. (WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 564, 8 March 2002)