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REVIEW: The Day We Bombed Utah

Amy Kaler (reviewer) — July 1984

John G. Fuller. Published 1984 by New American Library of Canada (New York and Scarborough). 268 pages; $20.45.

This book broaches one of the most potentially explosive topics in the arms race debate: the deliberate – and successful – conspiracy of a government against its own people.

Fuller examines the human costs of the A-bomb tests conducted by the American Atomic Energy Commission in Utah and Nevada; mostly III the 1950’s, but occuring as late as 1970. Similar tests, with similarly disastrous side-‘effects, which took place in Melanesia have received much recent publicity, partly due to nationalist movements in that area.

The US government was as harsh on its own citizens as on those of Melanesia. Fallout from the first tests conducted in the western states resulted in the (gruesomely detailed) deaths and deformity of many sheep – thus destroying the economic base of the community.

According to Fuller, the AEC suppressed the results of studies which linked the sheep deaths to fallout, insisting instead that the losses were attributable to malnutrition and neglect. Fuller provides excerpts from lab reports, court transcripts and memos as corroboration for his conclusions; and in the end, his documentation of the cover-up leaves a greater impact on the reader than the account of the effects of the bomb tests themselves… with the exception of one effect – the hugelyincreased incidence of cancer; in some areas as high as twenty times the national average.

According to Fuller, the victims of this plague were not only the inhabitants of the testing areas, but also the personnel of the AEC – both of which had received instructions from the AEC on the precautions to take during tests. This aspect of Fuller’s subject is still relevant, as survivors and victims of fallout-induced illnesses are currently organizing and contemplating legal action against the US government. (As a bizarre sidelight on history – the AEC may have been inadvertently responsible for the death of John Wayne, who filmed The Conqueror in the radioactive dustbowl region of Utah. All the stars, and many of the cast and crew of that film subsequently died of cancer.)

Fuller has managed to come up with remarkably damning evidence against the AEC, notably excerpts from AEC memos, issued during the lawsuit which was brought against the AEC by the sheep farmers – memos which explicitly detail the steps necessary for the cover-up, and for concealing all evidence which was not AEC-approved.

Fuller has managed to make the data and documentation of these events accessible to readers with little techical background, and mild sensationalism aside (the title in particular made me wince) this is a very strong book. It is forthright enough to confirm the worst fears of anyone with anti-nuclear sympathies, and credible enough to convince anyone without.