In a letter more than five years ago to the consortium trying to store high-level nuclear waste in Utah, then-Gov. Mike Leavitt harked back to the state's sorry legacy of nuclear mistrust.

"Utahns have experienced an epidemic of cancer and other radiation-related illnesses as a result of radioactive fallout from U.S. Atomic Energy Commission nuclear weapons testing in the Fifties and Sixties," he wrote, adding that the commission's "dishonesty and manipulation of information are indelible lessons."

Which makes it difficult to understand today why Leavitt, who now is secretary of health and human services, won't release a final report on the extent of injuries caused by those tests. Perhaps in his new position he is sensitive to the possible extent of the federal government's liability. A preliminary report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2002 found that virtually everyone who has lived in this country since 1951 has been exposed to radioactive fallout.

But then, if that preliminary finding is true, shouldn't Americans know?

In these parts, people like to point out the ironies of life 40 or 50 years ago. In those days, people here spent a lot of time worrying about a possible nuclear attack from the Soviet Union, when in fact Utah and Nevada faced more danger from their own government. Between 1951 and 1963, more than 200 above-ground nuclear weapons tests were conducted by the U.S. government. More than half of those were in Nevada, where winds often carried nuclear fallout over wide parts of southern Utah and beyond.

Congress finally and reluctantly approved compensation for people in parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona who suffered from certain types of cancers. But the report released in 2002 suggests that testing might have made many more people sick and caused perhaps 11,000 or more deaths in the United States. More recent estimates, including one reported in this newspaper by reporter Joe Bauman, place the number of deaths, including potential future deaths, at between 13,695 and 16,390. That was based on the work of three experts with the National Cancer Institute.

The specific effects of nuclear fallout are difficult to isolate, considering the Soviets, French, Chinese and British also were conducting above-ground tests during the same time period. But cancer rates in parts of the American West are difficult to ignore.

The government had said it wouldn't release the final report until the National Academy of Sciences had a chance to review it. But that review ended in 2003.

The Deseret Morning News has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Leavitt's department to see the final report. A public-interest group, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, filed a similar request two days later.

Perhaps this hasn't made it far enough up the ladder to reach Leavitt's attention. But the sad irony is that the department's reluctance to release the report only adds to the mistrust Leavitt spoke of in the letter he wrote to the nuclear waste consortium as governor.