This is the astonishing story of how the United States exploded atomic weapons on its own soil.
For over a decade, from 1951 to 1963, the U.S. government used the Nevada Test Site to detonate above-ground atomic bombs as part of its postwar military nuclear testing program. "Only" 100,000 people lived downwind of the test site, for the bombs were set off only when the wind was blowing in an easterly direction, that, away from California of Las Vegas.
By 1982, over 1,100 people had sued the government for causing injury and wrongful death because the Atomic Energy Commision had acted negligently in implementing the testing. Although scientific knowledge about the hazards of low-level radiation was not extensive at the time, enough was known to have warranted concern. Indeed, immediately after one set of tests in 1953, thousands of sheep and cattle died. But AEC officials, fearful that any public outcry might shut down the program, not only downplayed the significance of the animals' deaths but even went so far as to perpetrate "a fraud on the Court" by hiding evidence that suggested possible connections between the sheep deaths and the nuclear fallout.
By 1978 the "downwinders" were no longer concerned with animal deaths. By then most scientific studies had shown associations between the epidemic of childhood leukemia and other cancers and radioactive fallout. This book tells the story of the clash between a group of deeply religious, politically conservative, fiercely patriotic citizens and an overzealous independent regulatory agency bent on exercising its own power in the name of national security. Pressing their case in the courts and in Congress, the downwind plaintiffs learned they were no match for a government even now extremely reluctant to admit its responsibility.
About the Author:
Howard Ball is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah and author of many books, including Federal Regulatory Agencies and Courts and Politics.