Millenium Countdown: 1951
Paper: Daily Appeal – 48 days to the millennium – Jan. 15, 1951
Editor and Publisher: George H. Payne
Managing Editor: Peter T. Kelley
Business Manager: George M. Payne
An independent newspaper published evenings except Saturday and Sunday at 110 W. Telegraph St.
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Leased wire: United Press
Experiment Nevada: Atomic testing
By Kelli Du Fresne
Today’s edition of the Nevada Appeal for Jan. 15, 1951, recalls the state’s reaction to the announcement that atomic testing will begin near Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range, a remnant of World War II, was named the Nevada Proving Grounds December 1950.
In six months, Carson High School will graduate its largest class in history. The 34 members of the class of 1951 will likely be getting married and having children during the next few years as the government explodes more than 90 atomic bombs in the deserts of southern Nevada with the promise that all is safe.
It will be more than 45 years before the government will begin to take some of the responsibility for the health problems of those associated with the test site and those exposed to radioactive fallout.
Today, we know exposure to radiation from fallout over long periods of time can cause cancer and damage genes – forty-eight years ago the public believed the government when it said the testing was safe.
On Jan. 27, 1951, in the midst of the Korean War and the Cold War the first atomic bomb was exploded in the Nevada desert. Testing continued above ground until 1962.
Tests show the atmospheric fallout from the above ground tests occurred in every state.
In 1963, the U.S. signed a treaty with the Soviet Union and more than 100 other nations banning above-ground testing of nuclear weapons.
Appeal Editor Peter T. Kelley on Jan. 15, 1951, wrote the following editorial on the upcoming testing.
“Experiment in Nevada”
Dispatches from Las Vegas say that people there generally were startled when news broke that the government planned to set up an atomic explosion range nearby.
As one woman put it, “We’re not afraid. We were willing to help the government perfect its weapons. We want to do anything we can to see that the United States has the strength to defeat any aggressive nation.
That comment was typical of others. That many may have been alarmed over the fact that man’s most powerful explosive is to be detonated is quite natural.
But fears can be allayed. A spokesman for the Atomic Energy Commission said at a conference last week in the governor’s office that, “We don’t anticipate any trouble. Every type of precaution will be taken.”
He said that the tests will be as safe as Trinity – the code name used for the 1945 experimental blast at Alamogordo , New Mexico.
Seven A-bombs have been exploded since that time and much is known about control of radiological hazards that was not known in 1945.
The Alamogordo test explosion left a shallow crater in the sand. In July of 1949, the AEC reported that “only the immediate vicinity of the crater remains dangerous.” There has been no evidence of any hazards from external radiation to man, plants or animals. Wild animals captured during the past year in the nearby area appeared to be normal and in good health and their tissues contained no significant amounts of radioactive materials.
Nevada, because it is to be a site for atomic energy experiments, will thus become an important cog in the nation’s preparedness and defense machines.
As one high AEC official express it, “It is my hope and belief that the time saved through the establishment of this continental test site will be of material value in our efforts to operate the defenses of our country.”
Though Las Vegas residents were willing to play the role of patriot for their country, some say they were somewhat misled in their views on their safety by the government’s refusal to freely circulate photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Twenty years later, they would continue to be misled about the effects of the above ground tests on their health.
Throughout the late 1950s until as late as 1998, Downwinders, those residents of nearby states down wind from the test site, have challenged the government.
Preston Truman, who was in 1997 led the Downwinders, told the Las Vegas Sun the federal government and its public health agencies knew from the beginning that atmospheric nuclear tests would result in exposures and deaths for thousands of unwitting and trusting Americans.
A lawsuit filed in 1983 by the Downwinders was decided in its favor, but was later decided against them on appeal.
About three-quarters of the the state’s June 1953 edition of Nevada Highways and Parks was dedicated to the March 17, 1953, test.
On page three of the magazine, the Atomic Energy Commission printed the following:
No Danger” Atomic Energy Commission officials declare there is no danger to travel over Nevada highways from radioactive “fall out particles.”
Highway 95, the Bonanza Highway, courses nearest the Yucca Flat test site, 45 miles north of Las Vegas.
General terrain, colorful panorama, and expansive solitude of the Nevada desert are strikingly impressive along that highway. No restrictions are in force, but security measures at Mercury, the post of entry into the test site, are in force at all times.
Today, Nevada’s Congressional delegation stand firm in their opposition to the storage of radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain.
The opposition is in part fallout from the tests at Yucca Flat.