Government says there is no danger for downwinders

Radiation levels seven times higher than normal are being reported by Utah monitoring stations downwind of the largest fire in the nation.

National Nuclear Security Agency spokesman Darwin Morgan said Thursday that the agency released the information to reassure Utahns that elevated radiation levels are too low to worry about. “We know that from the experience with downwinders, we’re very sensitive to concerns that Utahns have about radiation,” Morgan told the Deseret Morning News. “Downwinders” are the victims and survivors of exposure to cancer-causing radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.

The Milford Flat fire in central Utah that has consumed 680 square miles since July 6 was reportedly 30% contained Thursday morning.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that NNSA cited the backlash from the cancelled Divine Strake non-nuclear test as a reason for releasing the data on fire-caused gamma radiation spikes. Divine Strake was derailed in part due a federal lawsuit brought by downwinders who claimed the explosion would re-suspend fallout particles in the soil left behind from the open-air atomic tests.

Downwinders advocates agreed the radiation threat to local residents is minimal, but Citizens Education Project Director Steve Erickson, a plaintiff in the Divine Strake lawsuit, said the NNSA’s explanation that the source of the radiation is naturally occurring radon gas from the ground is “an artful dodge around the truth”.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas known to cause lung cancer over many years of low-level exposure. Radon is primarily an alpha not a gamma radiation emitter.

“This hot rocks spin won’t wash,” Erickson said. “The burning of trees and vegetation that absorbed fallout from the open-air blasts, coupled with the strong winds stirring up the surface soils, as Divine Strake could have done, are the likely culprit here.”

J Truman, director of Idaho-based Downwinders, Inc., said the monitoring stations miss the most dangerous fission products – such as Plutonium, an alpha emitter – left behind from past nuclear tests. “They only measure the gamma and beta radiation in real time, and careful laboratory analysis is required to determine what isotopes and radiation sources we’re talking about. NNSA hasn’t done that yet, so they’re jumping the gun with this naturally occurring radon diagnosis,” Truman said.

“Plus there aren’t enough monitoring stations in enough locations to accurately assess the extent of radiation from this fire, and none in the area around the Neola fire in northeast Utah,” Truman said. “Anywhere there is smoke from such fires, there’s radiation, and that would be in just about all of the cities in northern Utah. All of this shows the monitoring system is inadequate, more about public relations than public protection. It’s chilling that after all these years – and now in the era of ‘dirty bombs’ – we still don’t have proper monitoring or candor from the government.”

Truman and Erickson called for a full review of the monitoring program and an independent analysis of the levels and source of the fire-caused re-suspended radiation. “NNSA credibility is no better than that of its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, which constantly and falsely told downwind communities that ‘there is no danger’ from fallout,” Erickson said.

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