The issue of nuclear fallout has been on the tip of many Western politicians' tongues of late, with both Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Larry Craig making vocal pushes for Idahoans to be roundly compensated for their potential exposure during the 1950s and 1960s to fallout from above-ground nuclear blasts. In the meantime, however, Utah Congressman Jim Matheson introduced an unheralded bill this week-with no legislative cosponsors-to wage a battle that rarely takes place above ground: the battle against document destruction.
Matheson's bill stems from a 2003 National Academy of Sciences report titled "Exposure of the American Populace to Radioactive Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests." In it, the NAS acknowledged that the Navy and Air Force "have extensive documents of likely importance" regarding fallout, and specifically the much-publicized nucleotide Iodine-131, which has been shown to contribute to thyroid cancer. However, the authors recognize that while the Department of Energy has made a moratorium on the destruction of such documents, the Department of Defense has never made such a rule. The report further states that "Data searches will not be possible if the underlying records and related materials are destroyed," and urges Congress to protect all fallout-related materials.
Matheson's bill, titled the "Department of Defense Historical Radiation Records Preservation Act," calls for the prohibition of any document in the custody of the Department of Defense that is a "historical record" relating to radioactive fallout from nuclear tests, and calls for the DOD to declassify all such records. The bill also posits, "All government agencies should institute a moratorium on the destruction of historical fallout records." At press time, the bill was waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Armed Services.