Guest editorial, June 2, 2010
June 2, 2010
Last week, both of the Republican candidates running for the United States Senate publicly endorsed renewed underground nuclear testing in Nevada. A Tribune editorial pointed out many of the national security-related flaws in their position ("Nuclear Testing: Don’t end the moratorium," Tribune, May 21). But there are also compelling environmental and public health reasons to be alarmed by such a policy, especially for Utah citizens.
This alarm is served up with a heavy dose of irony because the theme of "limited federal government" was a primary ingredient in Mike Lee’s and Tim Bridgewater’s less than respectful ousting of Senator Bob Bennett. The current political fortunes of both candidates are tied to the philosophy — as witnessed during the recent state Republican convention — of "Hey, federal government, don’t tread on me."
Yet the tragic history of nuclear testing in Nevada is one of the worst examples of the federal government not merely "treading on", but in fact contributing to the deaths of tens of thousands of its own citizens. Furthermore, the fathers of both Lee and Bridgewater were "Downwinders." With their personal histories, we should ask this
question: Is their endorsement of more nuclear testing callous, cheerleading for Utahns to continue nobly taking "hits for the team," or just a case of being badly uninformed. None of those explanations should be reassuring to Utah voters.
Perhaps they are unaware that underground nuclear testing poses significant environmental and health hazards. Many underground nuclear explosions have vented radioactive gases. The Energy Department admits that 114 of the 723 underground U.S. nuclear tests since 1963 released significant radioactive material into the atmosphere. Other scientists think the number is much higher and that the release of radioactive material is the norm rather than the exception. In 1970, one of the underground tests conducted in Nevada shot debris 10,000 ft into the atmosphere, spreading radioactivity as far away as Maine and Canada.
Even nuclear tests that go as planned are an environmental and public health assault. One study concluded that underground nuclear tests have contaminated 1.6 trillion gallons of underground water in Nevada, an amount equal to 16 years of Nevada’s Colorado River allotment. And the contaminated water underground is slowly migrating to other aquifers.
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Nevada is currently trying to bully the state of Utah into handing over its share of the Snake Valley aquifer. This is just one of many examples of the new reality of the West; every drop of water is invaluable and will be bitterly contested. To suggest that we should contaminate even more of the West’s precious, irreplaceable, and nonrenewable underground water couldn’t possibly be more shortsighted.
Medical scientists now know that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. Even very small exposures increase disease rates, especially cancer, a small amount. From a public health perspective, when millions of people have their risks increased even slightly, there will be thousands of disease victims and premature deaths. Cancer from radiation can take decades to appear. Even today, we do not know the full extent of the victims from the first era of nuclear radiation.
For my opponents to promote more nuclear testing is as reckless and outrageous as offering more drilling permits to British Petroleum while the already unprecedented disaster in the Gulf continues to unfold. I doubt "Drill, Baby, Drill" is a winning slogan in Louisiana right now. "Nuke, Baby, Nuke," should be equally abhorrent to Utahns.