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National Downwinders Day

Posted on: January 24th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

In 2011 Congress designated January 27 as National Downwinders Day, the date selected to mark the anniversary of the first nuclear test in Nevada in 1951. It is a day to remember those who were exposed to the damaging effects of fallout from atomic bomb testing from 1951 to 1992. Some downwind counties received doses equivalent to 30 times background radiation from leaks in underground testing.

Transported by winds, radioactive clouds reached as far as the Midwest breadbasket and New York, causing excess cancers in those exposed, contaminating the food supply, eventually getting into milk. All the while the government was silent about the risks of exposure to radiation. The public was not warned of potential hazards, and when one test killed thousands of sheep, the government denied all responsibility, insisting no one had been harmed.

Non-downwinders were also adversely affected by war paranoia. In World War II, 179,000 war industry workers were potentially exposed to radiation by a culture that neglected safety due to secrecy and urgency. Then and later in the Cold War, uranium miners, many of whom were Native Americans, developed high rates of lung cancer. Hundreds of thousands of military personnel were exposed to high radiation doses in the postwar occupation of Japan and weapons testing in the Marshall Islands and Nevada.

The weapons industry, as well as a proliferation of nuclear power plants, has created massive amounts of radioactive and hazardous wastes, leaking into the soil, into rivers and streams, contaminating the environment. We don’t yet know how or where to store waste that will be hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. In many areas, “stored” waste is already leaking radioactivity into the environment.

Now there are plans to spend $1 trillion over the next thirty years to “modernize” the nuclear stockpile by dismantling aging warheads and rebuilding them into precision-guided bombs, violating a 2010 pledge not to develop weapons with new capabilities. To help pay for this, the government proposes to cut health and retirement benefits for workers in the nuclear weapons industry.

We have stalled in progressing beyond the nuclear age and the Cold War.

In Japan, those who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known as Hibakusha. We live on a small planet, breathe the same air, drink the same water, and share the same food. We are all Downwinders; we are all Hibakusha.

By A. Rose

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