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by Dr. Benjamin Spock

This is the frightening story of the damage that has already been done to our own people--to children even more than to adults--by the unlocking of the power of the atom. It investigates the testing of our nuclear weapons, the sloppy practices within the nuclear industry, and the problems with our atomic power plants. It is also about the future damage to be expected from mutation in our genes from radiation.

More than three and a half decades have now passed since the first atomic test at Alamogordo, New Mexico--July 16, 1945--and the subsequent detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then our own military has exploded more than 700 nuclear bombs on our own continental soil and in the Pacific. Many of the health effects are just now being felt.

It seems no accident that we are currently suffering from a national cancer epidemic, in which one of every five Americans dies of that dread disease. It would be plausible and prudent to assume that the radioactive fallout we've introduced into the global atmosphere, literally tens of tons of debris from bomb tests alone, is a significant factor in addition to industrial pollution and cigarette smoking. As early as the 1950s the American Linus Pauling and the Russian Andrei Sakharov--both Nobel prize winners--warned that literally millions of people would die worldwide because of these bomb tests.

There have been American "guinea pigs" who have amply confirmed these predictions. As this book documents for the first time, shortly after the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, American soldiers were sent in to help clean up the rubble. They were not warned that there was a danger in drinking the contaminated water and breathing the radioactive dust. Many of these men felt the lethal effects of the bombs' radiation almost immediately. Despite glib assurances from our government, they have suffered an extraordinary rate of rare cancers that could only have been caused by that radiation.

Similar tragedies have struck American soldiers present at scores of bomb tests that followed. From 1945 through the early 1960s, some 300,000 men and women in U.S. uniform were exposed to radiation from atmospheric, underwater, and underground bomb tests. The military wanted to know how armies would react to atomic weaponry in war and they used American soldiers to find out. Though the Pentagon has insisted all along that there was little or no danger from these tests, the authors here present irrefutable evidence, which has only gradually come to light, that many of our GIs have suffered and died from leukemia, cancer, chronic respiratory distress, progressive muscular weakness, and mental disturbance. Most tragically of all, some of their children have been born with physical and mental handicaps.

Yet in spite of overwhelming evidence, the Veterans Administration has adamantly refused to admit there is any proof that these illnesses are service-related, the vets and their widows and children have been consistently denied compensation. Of course, no individual case of leukemia or cancer or birth defect carries a label saying exactly what caused it. But the statistics, gathered by the veterans themselves, show that the tests were responsible.

With shocking callousness, our government has even refused to divulge the list of those hundreds of thousands who were deliberately exposed, a list that would greatly aid in the early detection of further cancers and save hundreds of lives.

Civilians unfortunate enough to live downwind from the tests, in towns like St. George, Utah, and Fredonia, Arizona, have also suffered disease and death. They were assured by the Atomic Energy Commission that the radiation would not harm them. But in ensuing years they have been afflicted with an outbreak of cancers and leukemia that could only have come from the test fallout. Yet, like the veterans, they have met a stone wall of governmental denial.

Frightening stories are also coming to light among people and animals living near nuclear weapons facilities, mining and waste storage sites, uranium processing plants, and nuclear power reactors. Farmers in central Pennsylvania, for example, began to observe abnormalities in their animals when Three Mile Island Unit One opened in 1974. They reported much worse problems in the wake of the accident at Unit Two in 1979. Many animals became infertile. Others developed bizarre behavior. Young were born with marked deformities. These farmers had seen such abnormalities only rarely in the past. Now they were occurring repeatedly and on many farms. But government investigators turned in reports that baldly denied a majority of the abnormalities, which had already been witnessed by neutral observers. In fact, the investigators never even visited some of the farms they reported on. They blamed what few disturbances they admitted to finding on mismanagement and ignorance on the part of the farmers.

Farmers living near the Rocky Flats plutonium factory in Colorado, near the West Valley atomic fuel reprocessing center in upstate New York, near a uranium mining waste pile in Colorado, and near four separate reactor sites--including Three Mile Island--have complained of similar defects and illnesses among their animals. They have documented the same kind of problems that first appeared back in the 1950s in sheep caught downwind from nuclear test blasts.

Parallel evidence is now in hand, from private citizens and independent researchers, that the rates of infant mortality and cancer and leukemia have risen among humans living near nuclear reactors. The government response has again been a condescending and blanket denial.

The government's own record of health studies has been stained with serious scandal and obvious cover-up. In the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission engaged a topflight expert named Thomas Mancuso to look into the health of workers at nuclear facilities such as the Hanford weapons plant in Washington state. But when he discovered, after more than a decade of research, that there was an elevated cancer rate at Hanford, the government fired him and tried to confiscate his data. Other top scientists, including Drs. John Gofman, Alice Stewart, Karl Z. Morgan, Rosalie Bertell, and Irwin Bross, have been censored, harassed, fired, or deprived of their grants for standing by their studies, which showed that humans and animals were being harmed.

Our government set up a massive study of the Japanese victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the data was kept secret, and it was later used in a way that brought charges of manipulation and deliberate suppression of the dangers of radiation. Now, nearly four decades later, it has become clear that radiation released was ten times more dangerous than anyone believed possible, not just to those killed at the time, but to the "survivors" as well.

There are great potential perils in the nuclear power industry that our government and the utilities consistently minimize. The most dramatic is the danger of a meltdown, which could kill many thousands of people immediately, and even more from the aftereffects. The accident at Three Mile Island revealed that the government and utilities are not in full control of this technology. They didn't know for several days what had gone wrong or what to do about it. There had been carelessness in maintenance. There were not adequate plans for meeting such a disaster. Part of the equipment was basically defective in design. The responses of government and the utility at the time, and later, to charges that radiation had already harmed infants and animals, showed again that their predominant impulse was to reassure the public that nothing serious was wrong and that there was no real danger--even when there was no technical or moral basis for such statements.

There are also problems related to the low-level radiation that leaks from all these reactors. Killing Our Own documents two cases--Three Mile Island and Arkansas Nuclear One--where strong evidence has been collected indicating an increased infant mortality rate from these emissions. Some scientists have charged that infant mortality rates have risen around other reactors as well. Yet neither the government nor the industry has ever conducted a definitive nationwide survey of cancer and infant mortality rates near atomic reactors, though one would be easy enough to perform.

Danger also arises from the production of nuclear fuel and its transport, and the transport and permanent storage of nuclear wastes, the latter being a problem for which even the government admits it has no solution. As this book documents, health problems have already arisen from even the short-term storage of these deadly radioactive poisons. Yet government and industry leaders continue to try to reassure us.

All of this has long since convinced me that we cannot trust these people and, more important still, that nuclear power is too dangerous to have around. But it is clear that our government is so deeply committed to nuclear weapons and nuclear power that it will ignore damning evidence, deny the truth, mislead our people, jeopardize health and even life itself, and try to blacken the reputation of scientists who disagree with its policies.

Atomic testing in the atmosphere was ended by the test ban of 1963. However, the testing has continued underground, on the assumption that radiation can be confined. The current administration has called for even more tests. But many of these explosions have vented dangerous amounts of radiation. The infamous Baneberry test in Nevada leaked thousands of times more radiation than the accident at Three Mile Island.

Is this dangerous testing really necessary?

A couple of years ago, Norris Bradbury, a former director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, where the first atom bomb was designed, and Hans Bethe, a recipient of the Nobel prize for his accomplishment in nuclear physics, wrote a petition (endorsed by the Federation of American Scientists) to President Carter asking to end the testing. They pointed out that the mechanical reliability of our nuclear weaponry had been proved "almost exclusively by nonnuclear testing"; it has been "rare to the point of nonexistence" for a nuclear test to be required to resolve any problem in our nuclear weapons arsenal. So why go on?

I earnestly believe that as soon as there is a definite suspicion of harm from any source as malignant as radiation, it is time to make every effort to eliminate it. I feel particularly strongly about radiation because children are much more vulnerable than adults--not only in regard to the likelihood of developing leukemia and cancer, but also of being born with physical or mental defects. And once mutations have been produced in genes, they will be passed down forever.

What right do we have to threaten with deformity or death those who are too young to protest or those still unborn? What right do we as adult citizens have to allow our government to take this power for evil into its hands?

Such harm would be bad enough if there were no alternatives. But I believe that the perilous and senseless accumulation of nuclear weapons and their dispersal to more and more nations could be ended if our citizens would demand that our government stop stalling and get on with the negotiation of a true disarmament with the Soviet Union. The damage being done by the mere building of these bombs at places like Rocky Flats would then also be eliminated.

We could solve the problem of our energy needs without the multiple risks of nuclear power if our government would provide leadership for energy conservation and the development of nonpolluting, renewable sources such as the sun, the wind, the tides, the burning of wood.

Only you, as aroused citizens, can stop the terrifying plague of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. But first you should read the estimates of past and future damage assembled here, in order to make up your mind independently. Then, if you are convinced, you will be well-motivated to exert your full influence.

Radiation In America

Radiation in America

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