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Nevada Test Site

January 28, 2018

There are places in Nevada where the eye can see hundreds of square miles all at once. From mountains which tower above expanses of long flatlands one is able to observe a number of different weather conditions occurring simultaneously. It may hail on you while below it would be raining and distant mountain peaks glow golden from the sun which illuminates dust devils dancing on the sand. Meanwhile in the opposite direction against flat grey skies a vivid double rainbow appears. Occasionally the wind is so strong that it is difficult to hear the person next to you speaking. Joshua trees, sagebrush and cactus grip the rocky sand to keep from blowing away. Only the most vigorous survive. In this landscape for time immeasurable members of the Paiute and Shoshone Nations have met at tree lined springs to share water, food and stories. The hot summer sun filtered through cotton wood leaves and fell upon people playing hand games. All their ancestors were with them. It was on this meeting place of wide valleys and extreme mountains where on this date sixty seven years ago that the first of 928 nuclear bombs was detonated. The land had been slipping away from the Shoshone and Paiute for a few generations already. To pay for the American civil war the US government decided it was necessary to use the gold and silver mined from this land. A treaty was signed and ore was mined. In 1951 war made it necessary again to turn to the Shoshone. The US government decided that testing on the lands where islanders lived in the Pacific was too time consuming so they transformed the land of the Treaty of Ruby Valley in to a Nevada Test Site. The organization responsible for the tests, the Atomic Energy Commission, issued a statement to the public which read: “Heath and safety authorities have determined that no danger from or as a result of AEC test activities may be expected outside the limits of the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range. All necessary precautions, including radoilogical surveys and patrolling of the surrounding territory, will be undertaken to insure that safety conditions are maintained.” As far as we know, sheep were the first to experience the effects: “We were on the trail home from our Nevada range to our Utah range, and I was out on the saddle horse with this herd of sheep just sitting... kind of watching the sheep. They were grazing, and these airplanes came over.. and all at once this bomb dropped... I wasn't expecting it... it just was an atomic bomb... And, of course, the cloud came up and drifted over us... And, it was a little bit later that day that some of the Army personnel that had four-by-fours and jeeps... came through there... and they said, 'Boy, you guys really are in a hot spot'... Well, we had to herd the sheep. We had to move as fast as they walked... and that's not very fast. Well, we trailed on into Cedar City – I guess it was 200 and some odd miles... and when we got into our lambing yards... we started losing the sheep. When they started to lamb, we started to loosing them, and the lambs were born with little legs, kind of pot bellied. As I remember some of them didn't have any wool, kind of a skin instead of wool... And we just started to losing so many lambs that my father, who was alive at the time – just about went crazy. He had never seen anything like it before. Neither had I; neither had anybody else.” – Mr Kern Bullock, sheep rancher The AEC maintained the position that no harm could come from the testing: “I remember going with Doug Clark and some of the veterinarians who were doing some autopsies one day, and Doug raised some questions with the team of scientists, one of whom was a colonel... he seemed to be the leading spokesman to kind of press this issue that it couldn't have been radiation. Doug asked him some fairly technical questions about the effects of radiation on internal organs that he'd gotten from other veterinarians. The man, rather than answering the question, called him a dumb sheepman [and] told him he was stupid – he couldn't understand the answer if it was given to him, and for just ten or fifteen minutes, just kind of berated him rather than answer the question. “[And] it was a tough kind of experience for Doug. I remember he left there to go out to his ranch to meet with the loan company to account for what sheep he had left, and within a couple hours, he was dead from a heart attack. I think that.. part of the stress that he experienced at that time was the abuse that he had received from these officials.” Dr Stephen Brower, Iron County Agricultural Agent Even while the thyroid cancer rate in children who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site rose 400 percent, the AEC held the position that it “could not be attributed to the atomic tests.” Decades later in the early nineteen eighties it was discovered that AEC documents had been altered, studies destroyed and scientists ordered to keep quiet. Now, the most conservative estimate of human deaths directly attributed to the Nevada Test Site is 49,000 while some studies suggest 250,000 and up. Our film brings us to these places. We meet those dispossessed of their land and lifestyle and the ones who's health has been effected, just some of the wide range of people who live along the path of nuclear weapons construction.

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