On the edge of Capitol Hill, day after day, we heard wrenching testimony from people whose lives had been ravaged by the split atom.
That was three decades ago.
I was coordinating the National Citizens Hearings for Radiation Victims in 1980, one year after Three Mile Island. The voices came from uranium miners, atomic workers, veterans, downwinders exposed to atmospheric nuclear bomb tests . . . and many others. The people who testified were from a wide array of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. But in addition to radiation exposure and suffering, they had one huge experience in common.
They’d been lied to—not once or twice, but repeatedly. Year after year.
There is no danger, the officials told them. You are safe. Radiation levels? Not to worry. But gradually, the clusters of cancer or leukemia or severe thyroid ailments or birth defects became too conspicuous to ignore. Still, officials kept saying that the nuclear industry was blameless.
Later, while working on a book, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation, I learned that deception was routine and central to the nuclear age. The basic storyline was steady denial. The gist was that nuclear weapons and atomic power plants made us safe.
But later, declassified documents would tell a very different story. Government and corporate officials, committed to nuclear agendas, were careful to suppress key facts, trash critics, excel at media spin—and treat employees and the public as expendable, best kept in the dark.
Now, as catastrophe has struck at nuclear reactors in Japan, I feel a terrible sense of return to the future. From Tokyo to Washington, the authorities are doing all they can to downplay realities. The oxymoronic talk is about “safe nuclear power”—right up there with “jumbo shrimp” and “clean coal.”
Who do they think they’re fooling?
Norman Solomon co-chaired the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay. His books include ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.’