If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Carole Gallagher on the victims of U.S. nuclear testing


1955 Wasp Prime nuclear test in Nevada. (National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office)

1955 "Wasp Prime" nuclear test in Nevada (National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office)

This week’s guest is Carole Gallagher, author of American Ground Zero: the Secret Nuclear War (MIT Press, 1993). Gallagher’s book documents the effects of nuclear testing in Nevada on those living downwind, the test site workers themselves, and atomic veterans who were exposed to the bombs at very close range. The U.S. government program to expose soldiers to the bomb was an experiment to see what a man could withstand emotionally and physically on the “nuclear battlefield,” should a full-scale nuclear war occur, or during more limited nuclear exchanges. After living in Utah for seven years to work on the book, Gallagher returned to New York in 1990 because she was being harassed by locals, even receiving death threats. Gallagher is also a successful artist/photographer, and has exhibited in museums and galleries nationally and internationally.

In 1983, Gallagher began documenting the effects of nuclear testing in Nevada on Utahans, and on U.S. veterans made to walk over Ground Zero shortly after each bomb was exploded. Dr. Caldicott says she was “flabbergasted” to read the shocking personal stories and see the accompanying photos in American Ground Zero, and urges all listeners to buy the book.


Gallagher and Dr. Caldicott look at the enormous amount of radiation released by each of the above-ground Nevada bomb tests, the sense of guilt or lack thereof on the part of bomb scientists such as Robert Oppenheimer, the Pacific Ocean bomb tests and how the bombs compared in size to those exploded in Nevada, the sort of nuclear weapons now stockpiled by the U.S. and Russia, the huge number of people in the American West who were exposed to bomb-test radiation, and how far east in the U.S. the bomb fallout was blown.

They also explore the Mormon culture and how it dealt with what the U.S. government told residents about bomb test effects, case histories of bomb test victims, many of whom were children when the bombs were detonated, and how physicians turned their backs on studying the health effects of radiation on sick patients. Dr. Caldicott has strong words for her colleagues who treated patients contaminated by the Nevada weapons tests.

Gallagher refers to a National Cancer Institute study map of U.S. fallout exposure. Dr. Caldicott and Gallagher ponder the global extent of cancer cases and deaths stemming from nuclear radiation. Dr. Caldicott mentions
Prof. John Gofman’s book, Poisoned Power: The Case Against Nuclear Power Plants Before and After Three Mile Island, which helped her understand how radiation damages the human body. The book can be read on-line. Gallagher refers to Richard Miller’s map of U.S. areas affected by nuclear test clouds. Gallagher says that the nuclear scientists knew about the effects of the bombs on downwinders.

The program also examines the terrible plight of U.S. military personnel forced to take part in the Nevada tests, as well as the foreigners who were brought in to take part in terrible experiments. In discussing the psychology of the weapons scientists and warmakers, Dr. Caldicott mentions a book she is reading, The Sociopath Next Door. Dr. Caldicott refers to scientist Karl Morgan, the father of health physics who denounced nuclear weapons, and she talks about the new generation of health physicists who cover up the medical effects of radiation.

Dr. Caldicott praises Gallagher for her work to reveal the nuclear bomb devastation in the U.S., and mentions whistleblower Karen Silkwood, who tried to expose the safety lapses at a plutonium factory. Read The Killing of Karen Silkwood (Cornell University Press). In closing, Dr. Caldicott again urges listeners to buy and read every page of American Ground Zero to understand more about the Nuclear Age. The book is a powerful complement to the Emmy Award-winning documentary White Light Black Rain, available on DVD, about the effects of nuclear weapons and radiation on Japanese atomic bomb survivors.

For more information on downwinders, watch the short documentary, Forgotten Victims: The Story of Utah’s Downwinders. Read the book They Never Knew: The Victims of Atomic Testing, an excerpt of which can be read here. And see the article Did Utah Kill John Wayne? about the fate of the cast and crew of a 1953 Hollywood movie filmed in a highly radiated part of Utah downwind of a nuclear test explosion in Nevada. For more about the originators of the atomic bomb, read the book Brotherhood of the Bomb. And for more about nuclear contamination, read Uranium Contamination Haunts Navajo Country and Plan to Pay Sick Nuclear Workers Unfairly Rejects Many, Doctor Says.

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