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AN ATOMIC APPEAL

Downwinders request help from attorney general

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A group of Idaho's nuclear downwinders are seeking legal support from state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. In a Nov. 22 letter signed under the name "Citizens of Idaho," 15 authors from around South and Central Idaho, including State Representative Wendy Jaquet (D-Ketchum), express dissatisfaction both with decades of governmental inaction and with the current grasp of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).

"Fifty-four years after the first atomic weapons fallout hit Idaho we are finally hearing about RECA compensation of $50,000 for victims from the government," the letter states. "We would like your legal opinion because even the $50,000 seems like a grossly inappropriate settlement for the intentional damage done ... Please consider a class-action suit for Idaho against the federal government and their private corporations that inflicted this pain and suffering."

Among other requests, the letter calls for Wasden to take a close look at the non-cancerous diseases which many downwinders believe are caused by nuclear fallout from over 100 atmospheric "test" explosions which took place at the Nevada Test Site from 1952 to 1962. "Many [Idahoans] suffer from hyperthyroidism instead of cancer from high [Iodine 131, a common component of fallout] exposure," the writers claim, adding that Idaho's state Medicaid paid over $900,000 last year for thyroid supplementing medication alone.

The group of authors, which includes several victims of Multiple Sclerosis, also addresses the possibility that fallout has contributed to Idaho's high numbers of the nervous system disorder. "Radiation affects the immune system," the authors state. "Our autoimmune rate for MS has a statewide rate higher than what the CDC says is America's highest rate of MS ... With these high rates of an immune disorder in Idaho, why is the burden of proof not on the government to prove they did not cause this problem by aiming weapons fallout at us repeatedly?"

Currently, RECA compensation standards cover 19 types of cancer, but not hyperthyroidism or MS. Similar attempts at expansion have reached the Supreme Court, but have been stilted by the "sovereign immunity" of the U.S. Government. Of such judgments the letter asks to Wasden, "Does this [immunity] mean that the federal government can intentionally inflict diseases, cancer and death on its citizens? ... What law or constitutional amendment can you write for our delegation to present to Congress that can protect a state from being aimed at with deadly nuclear fallout by our federal government?"

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