Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

7-30 You May Be a Nuclear Fallout Victim


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Last week I asked how wise it was to conduct nuclear testing on our own turf, no matter how isolated it might seem to be. I received some quick answers.

      Days later, Roger Snodgrass of the Los Alamos Monitor reported on a public meeting at Pojoaque to discuss interim findings of the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Analysis project

      This multi-million dollar document search is being conducted under a contract from the Centers for Disease Control to fill in some of the knowledge gaps surrounding the 1945 Trinity test in central New Mexico.

      Since that was the first nuclear blast ever, health issues from fallout were not high on the priority list. Secrecy and safety of the project staff were of prime importance. Few measurements were taken  immediately and those didn't receive much analysis.

   The current effort is an attempt to put together that data from millions of documents, along with interviewing scientists and surviving residents.

      Many of the radioactivity measurements were taken on the day after the blast, particularly in a gorge east of the town of Bingham, known as Hoot Owl Canyon. Because of the high radioactivity measurements, it was renamed Hot Canyon.

      Measurements typically reached levels 10,000 times higher than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows in a public area.

      The following day, I received a copy of the interim report from a reader. The 47-page Appendix N includes maps of fallout patterns and a discussion of gaps of knowledge remaining to this day.

      Having lived in Deming, about 130 miles to the southwest, at the time of the blast, I was very interested in what radiation I might have received.

   It was comforting to learn that New Mexico's familiar winds out of the southwest meant that the mushroom cloud blew in exactly the opposite direction. The only downside to that finding is that I don't have radiation to explain any personal oddities.

   The radiation headed basically northeast from Trinity, extending past Las Vegas and Raton into Colorado. The major fallout pattern spread to its sides as far as Socorro and Roswell. It included Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, ironically just missing Los Alamos.

   Then I received an assessment of cancer risks throughout the continental United States produced by the 1950s testing of atomic weapons at the Nevada test site. It was published by Moore and others at SENES Oak Ridge, Inc. of Oak Ridge, Tenn. last October and shows New Mexico received a good dose.

   The report indicates that one of the important radionuclides released by the Nevada tests was Iodine-131, which may induce thyroid cancer because it accumulates in the thyroid gland of individuals who consumed contaminated milk and other foods for about four to six weeks following each nuclear test.

   Virtually all Americans who lived in the continental United States during the nuclear testing period were exposed to I-131. The report provides a set of tables representing risks of thyroid cancer in various areas throughout the United States, broken down by age, gender and milk source.

   I also was led to a fascinating study that appeared in American Scientist magazine last year indicating the effects of nuclear testing worldwide and concluding that by the early 1960s, there was no place on earth where the signature of atmospheric nuclear testing could not be found in soil, water and even polar ice.

   The article contains intriguing maps of worldwide testing on five continents and wind trajectories at various altitudes from the Nevada tests. New Mexico was included in three of the four trajectories.

   Finally, I was able to obtain a report, released by the federal Department of Energy in March summarizing estimates of fallout from Trinity, concentrating on affected areas in New Mexico. It also contains many maps.

   If you are interested in learning more about how the testing affected New Mexico, all of this information can be obtained from the Internet.

MON, 7-30-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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