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Bomb tests? Not again in our back yard

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Bomb tests? Not again in our back yard
Deseret Morning News
May 21, 2006
By Jay Evensen

Dear Uncle Sam,

You may have a tough time figuring us out here in Utah. Generally speaking, we are a patriotic bunch. We tend to vote for law and order, and it takes more than a couple of military setbacks or insurgent strikes to make us back away from our commitment to a war — even if people in the rest of the country are more easily swayed.

Most of us still support the president, despite his low approval ratings everywhere else. Folks here don’t even seem to mind much that he wants to eavesdrop on telephone conversations without a warrant. They trust that whoever he has doing it will focus only on the bad guys, not on what people here happen to be saying to their friends.

Some may call this naivete. Many people here prefer to think of it as healthy optimism, or just faith in the virtue of the greatest nation on earth.

But Uncle, don’t even think about setting off any more big bombs in Nevada.

Even if they aren’t nuclear — go blow them up in someone else’s back yard.

Even if you argue that testing is important to the nation’s security in an age that is growing more dangerous by the day — go set ’em off in the Poconos. If they’re so safe, let ’em rip under the Allegheny Mountains. We don’t want ’em.

If there was one moment in modern history when you betrayed us, it was during those frantic Cold War years when you set off nuclear bombs in Nevada and the wind was blowing north. Don’t worry, you said. So folks here used to sit on the hoods of their cars and watch the mushroom clouds and ooh and ahh at the pretty colors overhead. Then, not long after, they started dying of strange cancers at rates far above normal.

It took many years for you to fess up to this and begin making money available as reparations. But of course, no amount of cash could bring a life back or restore a family or erase the suffering.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., recently called it “a very unfortunate history that many families are still living with in this state.” He said this while explaining why he, too — the Republican leader of a conservative pro-military state — doesn’t want any more bombs going off in Nevada.

We may love you, but we have long memories. And, frankly, we suspect you love all those people in the big cities back east a little more than us.

In reality, we weren’t the only ones harmed by those tests, but you still don’t want to come to terms with that. A recent study estimated that, nationwide, 11,000 cancer cases above and beyond what normally could be expected were caused by exposure to fallout. Virtually everyone who has lived in the lower 48 states since 1951 has been exposed to radiation to one degree or another.

But the bulk of it was felt here.

Later, you got smart and started exploding nuclear bombs underground in Nevada, to keep the fallout from spreading. When I lived in Las Vegas in the ’80s, we would regularly receive warnings, then feel the tiny, almost imperceptible shivers in the ground when these went off.

But let’s be serious here. The radiation may not have escaped into the air, but it didn’t just disappear.

Now you want to explode 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil near the places where you used to explode those underground bombs? You want to create huge mushroom clouds and you want us not to worry because you’re certain it won’t kick up any of that old radiation?

Do you also have a bridge in Brooklyn you’d like to sell us?

We’ll keep supporting the war and the president, even if gas goes to $4 a cup and we start hearing strange clicking noises on our phones.

But frankly, we’re not in a mood to buy any more of your sweet talk about bombs.

Sincerely,

Your real-life nephew

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© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company

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