In the 1930s and 40s, the United States was involved in the race to build an atomic bomb. Many of those above ground tests took place in the Nevada desert, and fallout from the blasts fell upon southern Utah residents. As a result, Utahns have had a history of opposing the federal government. Rod Decker will tell us more about these tests, as well as Utah’s love/hate relationship with the defense industry.
Rod: Utah was hit by the Great Depression, harder than most other states. What pulled them out was World War II. After World War II, Utah had a big defense sector. Utah for a number of years in the early 1960s, Utah had the largest defense sector of any state in proportion to its economy. I mean, we were nothing compared to California, but California was a bigger deal. Our defense sector provided a bigger percentage of jobs. We had Hill Air Force Base, we had other military installations, and we had a big rocket, a big aerial defense industry. We had Litton. We had Marcon. We had Hercules. We had a lot of them.
In World War II, if you had a good job, that was good. But defense was was a good thing to do. We believed in America. We wanted to win the war. By Vietnam, we didn’t believe so much in America. We didn’t particularly care whether our guys won the war, maybe. We weren’t so patriotic. We weren’t so pro defense, and it wasn’t just us, it was the whole country. So then there were a series of controversies that are still going on, though less than they used to, over destroying nerve gas at Toole, over a lab to test biological weapons at Dugway. The big one, the start of them was the downwinder issue where were the United States tested atomic bombs in Nevada, the fallout drifted over southern Utah. It was said thousands died. If you look at the scientific papers, probably fewer–what they could show is maybe 50 or 60, not good, but…
GT: But not thousands, either.
Rod: Maybe only 10, maybe only 10 or 11. I mean, you can’t tell who died. A guy gets cancer and he dies, you don’t know.
GT: Was it from the smoking?
Rod: So yeah, what you do is they do two things. They do dosimetry. They calculate how much radiation he might have been exposed to, and they calculate how much–epidemiology it’s called–they calculate how much cancer there was against how much cancer they think there ought to have been. We end up with maybe 10, maybe 50. Now the level of proof has to be high. It has to be 90 or 95% statistically, that it wasn’t just bad luck. That’s the way epidemiology works. Those aren’t special rules to beat up on southern Utahns. That’s the way it works, and by that 10 to maybe 50 or 60 died, mostly the little children, a lot of childhood leukemia.
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