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Martha Smith on: Scientific Evidence of the Effects of Radiation
Q: You said that the AEC or the Administration had a tendency to downplay the health and environmental consequences of this test. The AEC had already done studies about the effects of nuclear weapons, including, I guess, exposure to radiations. Are you saying that the Administration was not fully communicating what it has found in those studies?

MS: I think that the U.S. governments were well aware, right from 1946, from the time of the Bikini, the earlier Bikini tests. Scientists had come forward with information and evidence that showed that there were actually pretty close connections between the radiation coming from the tests and various types of health problems. There was quite a lot of evidence in the medical literature at that time, which showed that there were connections between radiation, the type of radiation that would come from tests, and other types of health problems, such as leukemia and cancers (thyroid cancer, for example). So I think it's pretty clear that the U.S. government had the information reflecting those studies, right from the time of the Truman Administration, and that obviously the Eisenhower Administration had that information as well.

However, there were different points of view, I think, amongst the scientists, with regards to how much weight should be given to that evidence. Definitely some scientists continued to argue-- Albert Schweitzer and Linus Pauling and people like that continued to be very, very worried about the health impact of the nuclear tests, both within the United States and in other places like the Pacific. However, the Atomic Energy Commission also had its own scientists. Willard Libby, for example, was one that quite strongly defended the use of the-- or the actual nuclear weapons tests themselves, and definitely downplayed the health and environmental impacts of those tests.

The Atomic Energy Commission and Lewis Strauss in particular would use all kinds of statement again which were pretty blanket statements, which were designed to encourage people to think that the tests were really not causing any kind of health problems. They would tell the American people that it was just-- a nuclear test wouldn't cause any more radiation than going to get an x-ray, for example, or from wearing a watch. They would also use the argument that the amount of radiation was minuscule because it was very similar to the background radiation that would come from the sun or from other types of sources. So all of those types of policies were obviously designed to try to assure Americans and other people in the world that these were not-- these were not serious problems, and that they wouldn't cause long-term health and environmental effects.

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