St George, 1953. How does the lesson relate to Fukushima?


“…..But “Turning Point” recounts one blast in 1953, Shot Harry, which recently released records show was 32 kilotons – almost three times bigger than what the Atomic Energy Commission’s own chief medical officer recommended. In the aftermath, the AEC produced a film – shot in St. George with local residents – to calm fears among those locals.

The film was a sham and a travesty. It goes so far as to show a young mother smiling when a warning is issued on the radio assuring her that “Parents need not be alarmed about children at school.”

According to Frank Butrico, who monitored the fallout in St. George for the AEC, his instruments showed dangerously high levels of radiation. When he alerted those at the test site, it was a full hour before any kind of warning was issued.

“And most distressing, when we passed a grade school we noticed that the children were still on their morning recess, the teacher having not received the information to take cover,” he says.

Butrico was instructed to discard his clothing and “be sure to keep showering until I reduced the amount of radiation on my body.” But when he asked if a similar warning should be issued to residents, “. . . of course the answer was a resounding no because this would create a panic situation.”

As for that AEC film, “Ironically, a good share of the people who were used in that film have died from cancer since that time,” Butrico said.

The hour includes chilling comments from Norris Bradbury, the onetime director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory who is now 84.

“Radiation is not a good thing, but I don’t know of any death that’s been caused by it,” Bradbury says. “Now I can’t prove nor can anybody else that somebody who died at 80 would have lived to 82 if he hadn’t been exposed to a little radiation.”

He later refuses to discuss the fallout and becomes even more uncomfortable when his former daughter-in-law recounts what Bradbury told her to move from her home in Zion National Park in the 1950s because of the danger from testing.

“I don’t remember anything about that,” Bradbury said. “I don’t remember doing it and I don’t think I did, but maybe I did.”

Other residents, of course, received no such warning.

“Turning Point,” which is slated to become a weekly series this spring on ABC, also goes through the battle for compensation, not only for downwinders but for soldiers exposed to radiation during bomb tests and workers exposed while setting up those tests.

“Turning Point” succeeds in personalizing this issue. In putting names and faces to a tragedy the government is still trying to deny ever existed.

This isn’t always an easy program to watch. But it is an important one.

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