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Plain Talk: We can't trust Trump to save the U.S. from dangers of nuclear weapons testing

Plain Talk: We can't trust Trump to save the U.S. from dangers of nuclear weapons testing

Konopacki 7/29

Another of the many Trump administration's pea-brained initiatives that have flown under the radar these past three-and-a-half years got some well-deserved light earlier this month on the 75th anniversary marking America's first test of the atomic bomb.

Just as Donald Trump's evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency, workplace safety protections, the dismantling of financial regulations aimed at preventing another Wall Street meltdown, the gutting of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the pillaging of the national parks and dozens of other public-interest programs have landed on the back burner of public consciousness, so too has the president's call for the U.S. to resume testing atomic weapons.

All of these insane policy decisions have been unable to compete for the public's attention with the constant drumbeat of Trump's daily verbal insults and name-calling and now, of course, the coronavirus pandemic and the administration's response to it.

How can you get the people to keep tabs on the atrocities of Trump's D.C. swamp when they're worried whether to send their kids to school this fall or whether grandpa and grandma will be exposed to COVID-19?

Because it sounds so preposterous, few have taken seriously Trump's suggestion that the time may have come when we should resume nuclear testing. Last month after it became evident that North Korea hasn't been cowed into dismantling its atomic bomb capabilities, he proclaimed that "we maintain and will maintain the ability to conduct nuclear tests if we see any reason to do so, whatever that reason may be."

Plus, it hasn't been lost on many arms observers that he has unilaterally withdrawn the U.S. from arms agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty.

It has been some time since we as a nation conducted nuclear tests. The last above ground nuclear bomb explosion was in 1963, the last underground test in 1992. In all, the U.S. has conducted 1,000 nuclear explosions, not counting the two World War II bombings of Japan in on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.

It was back in 1962 when, as a cub reporter assigned to The Capital Times' farm beat, I got my first page one byline for a story I happened upon from an agriculture report that milk from farms in Wisconsin's Trempealeau County was showing alarming traces of a radioactive isotope called Strontium 90. The isotope, which had a half-life of 28 years, had been showing up in other parts of the country and its presence was traced to the nuclear arms tests that were regularly being conducted in the Nevada desert since the end of the war. The prevailing winds were carrying the fallout ever eastward.

This was the first reported problem in Wisconsin and was undoubtedly collecting in milk produced by cows in other parts of the state. The entire dairy industry was in a panic. The presence of the isotope some 2,000 miles away led the Department of Defense to move the tests underground. Those underground tests wound up producing their own problems in the years ahead.

The author Joshua Wheeler, who has studied and written a book about the Nevada nuclear tests, noted in a New York Times column on the 75th anniversary of the first test on July 16, 1945, that in reality, that was the year we had nuclear bombed ourselves.

The fallout from that detonation floated over 1,000 square miles and exposed thousands of families to radiation levels that were up to 10,000 times what is currently allowed, he wrote. Downwind of the blast, the infant mortality rate, after declining in previous years, spiked by as much as 52% in the three months after the test. Years later, deaths from all forms of cancer occurred in the wide area.

Wheeler is livid that the tragic consequences of that first test and others that followed have been kept under wraps.

If Congress truly wants to awaken Americans to the dangers of nuclear testing, it should start by finally telling the truth about that first test and the impact that radiation has on innocent people.

"The shameful legacy of nuclear weapons testing is something we should never attempt to revive," he concluded.

Problem is, from we've learned these past three-and-a-half years, can we trust the person in the White House to heed that advice?

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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