Cancer and Terry Tempest Williams' Refuge
“I cannot prove my mother, my grandmothers, along with my aunts
developed cancer from nuclear fallout in Utah. But I can’t prove they
didn’t.” Epilogue, Refuge
In Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge, death slowly claimed almost all of the women of her family. Death took Williams’ family members one by one just one or two years apart. In every case, the cause was cancer. Williams insisted in the epilogue that fall-out from the 1951-62 nuclear testing in Utah brought cancer to her family. Because there are many other causes of cancer, such as genetic and environmental factors, it is hard for one to insist that nuclear fall-out causes cancer. Therefore, it is important to find out how and why nuclear fall-out can cause cancer and relate it to Williams’ claim that there is a connection between cancer in her family and nuclear fall-out.
The risks that can develop cancer are complicated and complex. To indicate one single cause of cancer is hard. However, certain environmental causes are strongly interrelated with the cause of particular cancers, such as cigarette smoking and lung cancer and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light and skin cancer (CancerSource). It is also known that, “Ionizing radiation consists of x-rays, UV light, and radioactivity whose energy can damage cells and chromosomes. Radioactivity increases the risk of cancer.” Source to indicate the effects of radioactivity is the U.S bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After all these years, the Japanese are still suffering from all kinds of cancer caused by many long lived chemicals such as Strontium-90 and Cesium-147 from the fallout. “High rate of leukemia” was found among the people who had survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb explosion (CancerSource.)
Scientists have found that chemicals in nuclear fall-out radiation cause cancer. For example, Iodine 131 causes thyroid cancer. It is a substance that dissolves into liquid such as water and milk. Other chemicals such as Strontium-90 and Cesium 147 as well get into water, milk, soil, food and vegetables that we eat and cause bone, skin cancer and leukemia. Chemicals like Strontium-90 and Cesium-147 remain for up to 200 to 300 years in the atmosphere (CancerSource.)
The United States tested nuclear bombs, “215 A- and H-bombs” (www.nukewatch.com) above ground between 1951 and 1963 in the Nevada Test Site. Fifty years later, the U.S government studies stated that over 80,000 people who lived or were born in the U.S suffered from cancer caused by radioactive fall-out from nuclear testing. Over 15,000 of them died. Many of whom were from the states close to the testing sites, called the “downwinders,” Utah, Idaho and other states. From the Nevada Test Site the winds carried nuclear radiation fallout, filled with “iodine-131” which caused “75,000 thyroid cancers, ten percent of which are estimated to have been fatal, and strontium-90 and cesium-137, which are dangerous for...