That was the year of the dirtiest nuclear explosions ever set off in the open air at the site: tests Annie, 16 kilotons; Nancy, 24 kilotons; Badger, 23 kilotons; Simon, 43 kilotons; Harry, 32 kilotons.
Fallout rained down on sheep and actually burned holes in their fleece; they grazed contaminated grass.
"You'd think they'd be all right, and the next day there'd be 30 or 40 of them dead," rancher Kern Bullock, Cedar City, recalled years later.
In the last two weeks of May 1953, of 11,000 sheep and lambs in the region, 4,300 died or were born dead.
Government veterinarians investigated, finding the sheep had high levels of radiation in organs, particularly their thyroids, and that bones, livers and lungs also registered high readings.
One federal vet wrote that he believed "the Atomic Energy Commission has contributed to great losses." Another specialist wrote that the sheep's facial sores made him suspect they had come into contact with "material on the bushes, grass and etc. that would cause these lesions."
A June 9, 1953, radiation measurement in sheep thyroid glands, an expert wrote, exceeded "by a factor of 250 to 1,000 times the maximum permissible concentration of radioactive iodine for humans."
But the AEC claimed the sheep died because of poor vegetation.
The ranchers filed suit for compensation in 1955, but during the trial they were unable to prove the fallout killed their sheep. In his 1956 decision, Judge A. Sherman Christensen wrote, "Of the three professional men who originally suggested radiation damage, two, upon further consideration, questioned their original diagnosis. None of them claimed to be particularly qualified in the field of radiation.
"On the other hand, some of the best informed experts in the country expressed considered and convinced judgment that radiation damage could not possibly have been a cause or a contributing cause."
In 1982, Christensen reopened the case, saying government attorneys had committed fraud on his court in the original suit. However, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overruled him in 1985, saying the government did not commit fraud or withhold information. The Supreme Court refused to review the matter.
The ranchers never were compensated.
"The government is too far in debt to pay for a bunch of sheep," said Vera Bullock, Cedar City, the widow of Kern Bullock, summarizing what she believes is the federal position.
There have been recent incidents as well.
In 1994, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs released a report about the possible chemical exposure to Earl Davenport, a Tooele resident who worked at Dugway.
Davenport declined to be interviewed, but the report recounts what happened to him.
"He became ill in 1984 after being exposed to a chemical simulant called DMMP (dimethyl methylphosphate). He had been spraying the chemical into the path of a laser beam when a sudden change in wind blew the chemical all over his face and hair before he was able to put on a protective mask," the report says.
Although Davenport was wheezing and coughing the next day and his symptoms lasted for weeks, Dugway's clinic "merely gave him cough medicine and antibiotics. . . ."However, by 1988, officials at Dugway had re-evaluated the simulant's danger and were becoming concerned that DMMP could cause cancer and kidney damage."
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