By Sophia Kirschenman
St. George is a sleepy town in southern Utah known for its trails, year-round golf courses and for being a “downwinder”—a title earned for being located downwind from a Nevada site where 952 bombs were tested between 1951 and 1992.
Many of the locals in St. George and other nearby areas have died or developed cancer due to the radioactive ash they played in as children. The radiation has now contaminated their soil and groundwater as well as their bodies.
The federal government—which once told residents that bomb tests would do no harm to local communities—proposed last year to once again use the Nevada test site.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) planned to detonate the 700-ton ammonium nitrate-and-fuel oil conventional bomb, code-named “Divine Strake,” in June 2006.
If executed, the test will show how deep tunnels in the United States would be affected should there be an attack on U.S. complexes or buildings.
The action was halted by a Reno attorney Robert Hagar, who filed a lawsuit against Divine Strake on behalf of the Winnemucca Indian Colony as well as several other individuals. Hagar is deeply opposed to Divine Strake and believes that it would cause great harm.
“It’s a terrible situation when our fellow citizens are terrorized by our government,” Hagar said. “If another country were threatening to detonate a dirty bomb, we would attack them.”
He believes that he will be able to stop further attempts to complete Divine Strake.
“They chickened out twice. Do I think that I’ll be able to stop them a third time?” Hagar said. “Yes. I believe that this blast will never happen.”
While Robert Hager expresses grave concerns over potential bomb testing, others, such as Darwin Morgan, spokesperson for the Nevada test site, do not believe that the bomb will emit radiation in large enough quantities to have any effect.
“The radiation is less than what you find while watching TV,” Morgan said. “[But] it’s not my place to say whether a person should or should not be concerned.”
Officials have considered moving test sites, though doing so would cost $100 million and take at least three years of planning. If kept in Nevada, the test would only cost $5 million and could be completed this year.
Andrew Kishner, founder of StopDivineStrake.com, a website dedicated to informing the public and opposing further testing, discussed how the previous tests not only harmed the local environment but actually spread across the country.
“What I learned was that the fallout from tests conducted in Nevada beginning in 1951 actually affected people’s health, mostly in the form of thyroid diseases and thyroid cancer, in the Northeast,” Kishner said. “Radioactive clouds from both above ground and leaky underground testing reached New York State and parts of New England.”
According to Kishner, the government has stated that every county in the continental United States was affected during U.S. nuclear testing.
“No one upwind or downwind is safe when our government begins playing with nuclear bombs or the remains of past nuclear tests,” Kishner said.
Last month there were meetings in St. George, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Boise where downwinders expressed their concerns about Divine Strake.
“I’m a downwinder. My life has been shaped by what happened to me at the hands of my government,” said local resident Mary Dickson at the hearing in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 24. “I have thyroid cancer and I lost a sister to lupus. In the neighborhood I grew up in I’ve counted 45 people who died of fallout-related illnesses. We traded our trust for our lives. We won’t do it again.”
A status hearing on the case filed by Robert Hager is scheduled for March 2. No date for Divine Strake is currently set, but without further postponement or legal issues the test could occur as early as this spring.