'Money can't pay for a child's death'


SALT LAKE CITY -- A landmark ruling that the government must pay damages for fatal radiation sicknesses caused by nuclear bomb testing in the Nevada desert healed none of the deep psychological wounds suffered by the victims' survivors.

Only one victim in the 10 cases that will share the $2.6 million award, Jacqueline Sanders, 39, who contracted thyroid cancer, is still alive.


'The important thing is that somehow, some way, the government knows it cannot do this to people again,' said Mrs. Sanders.

'But I do not trust them now and no one down here does,' she said, referring to the areas in Utah, Arizona and Nevada that were downwind of fallout from nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mrs. Sanders was awarded $100,000 in damages. Relatives of the nine dead will receive payments of between $250,000 and $625,000.

Judge Bruce Jenkins, in awarding money to 10 of the 24 claimants, ruled the government neglected the safety of citizens living nearby when it exploded hundreds of bombs at the Nevada Test Site, 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

Isaac Nelson, 70, whose wife Oleta died from a brain tumor in 1965, said he was profoundly disillusioned by the testing and its effects. His was not one of the 24 representative cases reviewed by Jenkins.


'I fought in the South Pacific in World War II and laid my butt on the line for this government for three years, and they lied to me,' said Nelson, the chairman of a group formed to aid the radiation victims.

'They never told us of the harm and we believed them, and who'd have thought you couldn't believe your government?'

'Some people think we've won a lot but I don't have any more respect for it than if we had won the first leg in a long relay race,' he said. 'The other side will appeal it, and it will drag on for another five years or 10 years. I know I'll never live to see the end of it.

'The only people who are going to be compensated are the judges and the lawyers who are going to shoot craps with the fees.'

Rula Orton of Parowan, whose 14-year-old daughter, Peggy, died of leukemia in 1960, said, 'I'm pretty choked up right now. It's just a big relief to have it over with.

'Of course, money can't pay for a child's death.'

The ruling was hailed, nevertheless, as an important legal victory.

Former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, called the judge's decision 'a landmark because it involves civilians harmed by the radiation blunders of their own government. This is the first time in history a court has ruled in favor of fallout victims.'


Another attorney for a plaintiff, Wayne Owens of Salt Lake City, said: 'This is the first time in history where a court has debated the issue and found that radiation caused cancer and victims were entitled to compensation.'

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