January 27, 2016 marks the 65th anniversary of the inception of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. The test, a 1 kiloton bomb code named Able, went off at Frenchman Flat at 5:45 am local time.
Within eight days it was followed by four additional nuclear tests. In the forty years that followed, those first five tests, known as the Ranger series, were followed by another 923 nuclear detonations in Nevada. Massive amounts of toxic radiological pollution entered the downwind environment, contaminating the air, food, and water that local citizens relied on, and creating a legacy of health problems that will continue to ripple forward for generations. At 1 kt, Able was a comparatively small test, (if you consider 1000 tons of TNT small). Subsequent tests in Nevada were frequently upwards of 50 kt, sometimes even surpassing 100 kt. Atomic Energy Commission policy dictated that tests go forward only when the wind blew east, over the communities of southern Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona, and often northern Nevada, northern Utah and southern Idaho. Testing from 1951 to 1962 took place atmospherically, or in the open air, dumping massive amounts of radiological pollution into the winds to be carried across the country.
Testing in Nevada was only part of the problem. Massive amounts of uranium were mined, milled, transported, and processed to fuel the bombs (225 million tons between 1950 and 1989, some of that destined for the nuclear power industry), a process that left its own legacy of catastrophic pollution and health problems across the American West.
In memory of those who have been lost to radiation-related illness, downwinders in Salt Lake City and Emmett, Idaho are holding memorial gatherings today. The 5th annual SLC "Day of Remembrance for Downwinders," will take place from 7-8 pm at South Valley Unitarian Church in Cottonwood Heights.
The Emmett, Idaho downwinders group will be holding their event at 4:00 pm at the Frontier Cinema, where the official release of the documentary Downwinders will take place. To view a clip of the documentary, click here.
A contribution to HEAL Utah is a great way to help keep nuclear testing in Nevada a thing of the past, and a wonderful way to honor the memory of those who have been lost to radiation-related illness.
In memory of those who are too many to name.