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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 19:45 GMT
US counts nuclear test toll
Radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests probably caused 17,000 cancer deaths in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century, a US-based environmental watchdog reports.

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) drew its conclusion after studying a US government report which has yet to be published.

Now the US Government's job is to take the news to small towns all over this region and help unsuspecting people whose health has been damaged by nuclear weapons

Margaret Macdonald Stewart
Idaho environmentalist

Fallout from tests by the US, the Soviet Union and Britain between 1951 and 2000 were reportedly responsible for a total of 80,000 cancer cases in the US alone.

Environmentalists have welcomed the government report as the first extensive study of the effect of test fallout on population by a nuclear power.

The report was conducted over two years and at a cost of $1.85m by the National Cancer Institute and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nuclear test sites studied
Marshall Islands
Johnston Atoll
Former USSR:
Novaya Zemlya
Christmas Island

Using complex computer analyses, it estimated radiation doses from sites used until overground nuclear weapons tests were banned in 1963 by an international treaty.

'Bad as Chernobyl'

The head of the IEER, Dr Arjun Makhijani, believes the study showed that people living thousands of miles from nuclear tests had been affected.

"Hot spots were scattered across the United States from California and Oregon, Washington in the west to New Hampshire, Vermont and North Carolina in the east," he said.

Nuclear blast
France was still testing weapons above ground in the 1990s
In some instances, Dr Makhijani added, farm children drinking goat's milk in high fallout areas in the 1950s were as severely exposed to radiation as the worst exposed children after the Chernobyl power plant disaster in the USSR in 1986.

Another IEER official, Lisa Ledwidge, commended the US Government as the only nuclear power to have "been honest enough to say that it has harmed its own people".

But she called on Washington to provide greater information.

Campaigners in Idaho, where fallout was particularly high, are calling for a full government public information programme and for compensation awarded in the immediate Nevada area to be extended nationwide.

"Now the job - the US Government's job -is to take the news to small towns all over this region and help unsuspecting people whose health has been damaged by nuclear weapons," said Margaret Macdonald Stewart, Development Director of the Snake River Alliance.

"The United States has a compensation program for Nevada Test Site neighbours who are geographical downwinders. But this is clearly not enough. There are hot spots thousands of miles from test sites and the new definition of 'downwinder' should include all of them."

See also:

23 Oct 01 | Health
Chernobyl's cancer world record
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