Monday, May 31, 2004

Nevada's High Cancer Rate & Why Uncle Sam is Responsible

I was googling for statistics on Nuclear weapons when I stumbled upon the following list of 30 facts related to the United States nuclear program. Did you know that there have been 911 nuclear tests in Nevada in the past 50 years?

Nevada has the highest rate of lung cancer among women in the continental U.S. ("45.8 per 100,000") and certain troubling "clusters" of childhood leukemia have arisen in rural Nevada. How can MSNBC's headline read: "Nevada cancer cluster baffles scientists"? I'm no doctor, but don't they see a relation?

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute seems to suggest that only cigarette smoking can be blamed for cancer. They don't even mention fallout or nuclear radiation in their report on cancer (1973-1996), despite the fact that 921 nuclear weapons have been detonated on U.S. soil in the past 50 years (911 in Nevada, the rest in NM, AK, MI, and CO).

According to the EPA, the plutonium used to build the U.S. nuclear stockpile is Pu-239. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years. This means that the isotopes left behind from 20th century testing will be radioactive for the next 12,000 years.

Even if the Nevada nuclear tests were all performed underground, there is probably some radiation leaking into the Nevadan water supply. Also, sometimes when homes are being constructed and foundations are being laid down, they have to dig up dirt and move it to other locations. This can cause whatever radiation that was buried to become airborne, resulting in minute levels of radioactive fallout.

EPA Logo

I am quite appalled that the EPA claims not to know the effects of low-level radiation:
"The effects of very low levels of ionizing radiation are very difficult to study. They are well below the levels of normal background radiation that people receive from natural sources. In fact, the conclusions about the effects of low levels of radiation come from what we learned about the effects of higher levels of radiation exposure. As a result, there is no firm basis for setting a 'safe' level of exposure above background."

Upon further research, I found a chart at the National Cancer Institute that breaks down cancer-related mortality rates across Nevada county by county. The counties with the highest cancer/mortality rate were Lander County (274.0), Lyon County (227.0), and Carson City (226.7). They are all significantly above the national average of 199.8 cancer deaths per 100,000 people.

I discovered that several Nevada counties were offered compensation for early nuclear testing under the Radiation Exposure & Compensation Act of 1990. Guess which county was exposed to significant levels of radioactive fallout?
"In the State of Nevada, the counties of Eureka, Lander Lincoln, Nye, White Pine and a portion of Clark County were designated as downwind areas susceptible to radiation exposure from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing from January 1951 through October 1958... To date little is known about the actual number of persons affected in Lander County."

The U.S. gov't is still considering building a new nuclear waste storage facility in Yucca Mountain (against the will of the Nevada State gov't) but the Feds don't seem too worried about the effects it might have on Nevada's citizens.
"Little or no analysis concerning cumulative impact from radiation exposure were discussed in the Yucca Mountain Draft EIS."

I guess they're going to go ahead with the Yucca Mountain project. Don't be surprised if Nevada's cancer rate goes even higher in the next 50 years.

The U.S. spends approximately 35 billion USD per year to maintain a stockpile of over 2,500 operational nuclear warheads. These subterranean missiles are directly between us and world peace. Testing them gave Nevadans cancer, and if they're ever deployed, we'll be nothing but shadows. As long as a pendulum as cruel as this hangs above our heads, the peaceful people of the world will be powerless. (Yet another reason that I don't believe in empire-building. It runs counter to the will of humanity as a whole, nothing more than sinister death-worship.)