Plans to explode a huge bomb in the Nevada desert's old nuclear testing range is stirring anger and opposition in Utah because of what a previous generation experienced after Nevada atomic testing of the the 1950's and 60's. The Pentagon wants to develop new bombs which can destroy underground terrorist bunkers and hideouts, and plans to set 700 tons of explosives off in one massive blast.
"Its history repeating itself," a Bountiful grandmother, Darlene Phillips told ABC4 News. Phillips was among dozens who testified at a Wednesday night hearing called by Governor Jon Huntsman to let Utahns be heard on the subject. The military planners have held only information open houses--not formal public hearings. Phillips and many other Utahns call themselves "Downwinders"--citizens who were exposed to nuclear fallout from the open air atomic tests in Nevada decades ago. She blames a lifetime of immune system disorders on the tests. One specialist who examined her told her the only other people with her specific disorders lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan--the only cities ever bombed with atomic weapons.
"I know that the new generation needs to know this stuff, but it makes me sad that they need to know this stuff," Phillips said. "We have a generation of people who haven't been exposed to bombs and haven't been exposed to the fallout and haven't watched nuclear tests."
Another Utah grandmother, who suffers similar immune system problems, echoes Phillips. "I think we do need a reminder and I think that's what happened at this hearing," Trent Alvey told ABC4 News. "People have died and they've just gone on with their lives and families, I think for a lot of them, the pain is so great that they don't really want to talk about it and they'll subdue it."
But Utahns are turning out to protest Divine Strake, something they did not do all through the atomic testing era. Although this test will use non-nuclear explosives, those living downwind fear the blast will raise radioactive soils which have have sat undisturbed on the desert floor since treaties banned nuclear testing in the 1960's.
"There's no such thing as friendly fallout," Phillips says. "It doesn't matter who sets it off, if you get it you inhale it. If you ingest it, it goes to your bones and you get something."