Why An Atom Veteran The US Should Not Continue Nuclear Weapons Tests
In 1957, I was a fourth-class Army expert when I was taken by bus to the Nevada Test Site with other soldiers for an operation that was not said anything about. Soon, while I closed my closed eyes, we witnessed a series of nuclear bomb explosions that created flashes of light as intense as I could see the blood vessels and bones in my hands. Years later, those irresistibly bright explosions still haunt me.
We unknowingly participated in Operation Plumbbob, a series of 29 experiments involving 16,000 soldiers to determine how soldiers would fight on a nuclear battlefield. The experience was so disturbing that some soldiers, even those who had already hardened in the previous war, ran screaming and crying.
On this Veteran’s Day, I reminded that most Americans know very little about our country’s history of terrible nuclear weapons testing. For those of us who have undergone these tests, our conversation seems important, especially at this time when the federal government is considering continuing with full-scale explosive nuclear weapons tests.
I was horrified to learn that the Senate had allocated $ 10 million to prepare for an explosive nuclear weapon test if the administration decided to move forward with one for the first time since 1992. Discussions on the defense budget will be held in the coming weeks. As a veteran, I beg Congress: don’t fund nuclear weapons tests.
While the tests I have participated in take place above ground, we cannot be completely sure that the underground tests considered will be safe. An underground test in Nevada produced the second highest amount of radioactive fallout from any nuclear weapons test in the Americas, exposing millions of Americans as far away as Illinois.
The claimed benefits of new tests are not worth the risk. I believe that even thinking about restarting the test is an insult to the legacy of “atom veterans” like me.
Many soldiers continued to get cancer and other diseases. But despite what we went through, we were ordered not to even talk to each other about tests. This meant being ordered to suppress those memories, which in essence create their own problems. Finally, in 1996, President Bill Clinton apologized to the former soldiers and Congress revoked the gag order.
As the experiments were a mystery, long-term health effects were never investigated, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs finally realized that 21 types of cancer and other diseases were linked to exposure to ionizing radiation. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed me and other soldiers that we may genetically pass some cancers to our grandchildren.
Against this backdrop, it is shocking that the administration is considering the resumption of testing and Congress gives the green light, especially when there is no technical or military need. The United States has been testing nuclear weapons for decades by exploding weapon components through computer simulations and without producing a nuclear chain reaction, and our scientists have great confidence in the US nuclear arsenal.
The Trump Administration apparently thinks explosive tests could put pressure on Russia and China to get to the table to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear weapons control agreement. But my soldiers and I know that this is too dangerous to be used as a political bargaining chip.
Congress should also act right for nuclear weapons test victims. Many veterinarians died while waiting for recognition and compensation. Surviving soldiers received only limited compensation, and most received nothing. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), a federal law, is intended to provide compensation for these involuntary sacrifices, but is expected to expire in 2022.
In order to honor soldiers who participated in nuclear weapons tests and died as a result, Congress should expand and expand the RECA and ban funding for any new nuclear weapon tests.
Featured image for this blog courtesy of Sydney Rae on unsplash.
Posted in: Nuclear Weapons Tags: ndaa, nuclear test, RECA
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