Utahns pause to honor downwinders and call for Senate ratification of Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27 2013 6:15 p.m. MST

Beth Blattenberger of Salt Lake City lights a candle during the second annual Day of Remembrance for Utah Downwinders at the Skaggs Memorial Chapel, First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. The event was put on by the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN). January 27, 2012 was designated by the United States Senate as a "National Day of Remembrance for Americans who, during the Cold War, worked and lived downwind from nuclear testing sites and were adversely affected by the radiation exposure." Gov. Gary Herbert also designated Jan. 27 as a Day of Remembrance for Downwinders.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Lighting a candle against the darkness, Holly Stuart recalled the tears of fear she wept as a child.

One day, after hearing a broadcast report about bombs and war, she was so overcome by fright that she couldn't tell her parents what was wrong. Finally, she grabbed a globe and pointed at what was then the Soviet Union.

Her mother held her close and told her not to worry, telling that she and her father would protect her from harm.

"I knew even then it was a lie. I'm lighting this candle for a world that some day it won't be a lie."

Stuart was among 40 people who attended an interfaith service Sunday afternoon in the Skaggs Memorial Chapel at Salt Lake's First Baptist Church to commemorate the lives of Utahns who were sickened or have died as a result of exposure to radiation from nuclear tests. The service, held in observance of the second-annual Day of Remembrance for Downwinders, was sponsored by the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The service included prayers, music, personal remembrances and the lighting of candles.

Among those in attendance was former Utah first lady Norma Matheson, whose husband Gov. Scott Matheson died in 1990 at age 61 of multiple myeloma, a cancer blamed on living downwind of the Nevada Test Site. 

Nuclear fallout, particularly iodine-131, has been found not only in southern Utah and Arizona but also in northern Utah and as far away as Iowa and New York, according to a 1997 study by the National Cancer Institute.

Many Utahns share a long history of "being touched by nuclear testing," she said. "We still don't know all the effects of the testing."

Ali Sadler recounted the story of her grandparents, who lived in St. George. When a radio announcer instructed residents to seek shelter while the federal government conducted a nuclear test at the Nevada site, her grandfather Howard scoffed at his wife's insistence that he come in the house.

"He said, 'Oh, Roma, the government would never hurt us.'

"I light this candle for that to be said again and it to be completely true," Sadler said. 

The day of remembrance recognizes Americans who worked and lived downwind of nuclear tests conducted during the Cold War and were adversely affected by radiation exposure. 

"I'm just glad a there's a nucleus of people who want to keep this in the public conscience," Matheson said.

Participants also signed a letter that asks the Obama administration to urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The treaty would make permanent the testing moratorium the United States has observed since the last test at the Nevada Test Site in 1992. 

Supporters say Senate ratification would pressure other states to refrain from nuclear testing. The treaty also would strengthen verification processes to ensure that nations that ratify it comply with its requirements. 

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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