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When Dennis Nelson was 9 years old, the United States detonated a nuclear device due west from his hometown. Twelve years later, in 1963, he and his entire family and town had been exposed to the fallout of more than 900 nuclear weapon tests, with 100 detonations above ground.

Nelson, along with Hiroshima survivor Toshiyuki Mimaki and Fumie Kakita, the daughter of survivors of the Nagasaki bombing, will be the special guest speakers at "Getting to Global Zero: Remembering the Legacy of Nuclear Weapons" Saturday.

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The event is being held by Women in Black, Frederick, a peace-advocacy organization, in association with the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Committee of the National Capital Area.

The event will feature speeches from hibakusha — survivors of the atomic bombings — a photo exhibit from Hiroshima and discussion of the history of nuclear weapons. Andrea Norouzi, organizer with Women in Black, said having people tell their first-hand experiences is an important step in adding to the conversation of the dangers of nuclear weapons.

"I think that there's an ever-growing awareness of the importance and values of stories and the ways storytelling connects us to the human emotions and human impact of all kinds of events," Norouzi said. "It's a way of maybe making it more real and more comprehensible to the average person. You can get so lost in numbers and data and in the intricacy sometimes, but at the core of all of this is the human condition."

Dennis Nelson grew up in Utah, due east of the Nevada Proving Grounds, where nuclear devices were tested and detonated. Nelson and the others who were affected by the resultant radiation are known as downwinders — named for the fallout which was blown from the test sites to the east. Today he is the director of Support and Education for Radiation Victims.

"Most people have never heard of the downwinders," Nelson said. "It's a chapter the U.S. is trying to forget, but people like me are trying to keep it alive, mainly because radiation is harmful and the contamination of the environment is extremely harmful."

According to a CDC Report on the Health Consequences to the American Population from Nuclear Weapons Tests Conducted by the United States and other Nations, people throughout the country were exposed to radioactive fallout from the tests that were conducted between 1951 and 1963. The report said the radioactive material was exposed through direct skin contact as well as from eating plants, milk or meat that had been exposed to radioactive fallout.

Nelson, now 71, said the average age of death for his family is 49. His mother was diagnosed with brain cancer and died in 1966. His father was diagnosed with bone and lung cancer; his brother has been diagnosed with lymphoma and bladder cancer; his sister died of colon cancer at 40; and Nelson himself has been diagnosed with skin cancer.

"One of the problems of talking about health issues related to radiation is the length of time it can take for them to show themselves," Nelson said. "When you're diagnosed with cancer years later, people can ask, 'How do you know it's related?' That's just the nature of the beast."

Norouzi said nearly everyone she's spoken to that has been directly affected by nuclear weapons have become devoted advocates to encouraging their abolition.

"The hibakusha began to organize in the very early aftermath of what happened. They've been working to get word out about their plight," Norouzi said. "They did not want this to happen to anyone else. I've read a letter where the survivors said they feel resurrected in the aftermath. They feel the reason for their survival becomes their dedication to the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons."

Norouzi said as each generation is born, they have become more and more divorced from the realities of nuclear weapons.

"I know the younger generation is aware of it, and I know they're concerned, but it's not necessarily on the front of their minds," Norouzi said. "I think it's really important that we have a resurgence of the storytelling and education of young people because I don't believe the danger has gone."

Despite the continued danger, Norouzi said she is encouraged by the work others are doing in the realm of peace advocacy.

"I'm optimistic. I see more people in all walks of life and every political persuasion come to the realization that nuclear weapons are useless," Norouzi said. "That brings me hope, but it's tempered by the knowledge that trying to get movements among international bodies is very difficult."

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Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7980 or at jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

If you go

What: "Getting to Global Zero: Remembering the Legacy of Nuclear Weapons"

When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9

Where: Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ, 15 W. Church St., Frederick

For more information: Visit http://www.hiroshimapeacecommittee.net

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