By Today’s News-Herald
The United States conducted 1,055 nuclear weapons tests in the Southwest from 1945 to 1962. More than 225 of those tests were conducted above ground before U.S. military officials truly understood the lasting effects of nuclear radiation, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. The fallout created by nuclear weapons tests affected thousands of U.S. citizens throughout 12 states – including Mohave County residents who lived “downwind” of those testing sites.
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 was passed to aid victims of radiation exposure, and who lived with the threat of radiation-based cancers or other serious illnesses. The legislation awarded grants to victims who were affected in select regions of the country.
These “downwinders,” according to the 1990 act, are entitled to payments of up to $50,000 if they later developed breast, thyroid, lung cancer or other illnesses after testing was finished.
But Mohave County was omitted from the list of exposed areas. The area received two-to-three times the radiation of other places in Arizona that are covered. Current law deems those in Mohave County and Clark County, Nevada ineligible to receive partial reparations for serious medical conditions stemming from nuclear radiation exposure.
There have been repeated calls for Congress to right the wrong created when it drew up arbitrary boundaries 30 years ago, and with each year it seems we get a little closer to seeing that happen. Unfortunately, each year that passes means there are fewer people who can benefit.
In December, Congress signaled its support for continuing compensation to people, but the push to formally extend the life of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act beyond July 2022 and expand its boundaries to include affected residents in Mohave County are still ongoing. Thanks to strong support by Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate and Paul Gosar in the House, it remains a priority of the Arizona delegation. However, it’s not clear if that message of urgency has gotten through to the rest of Congress.
The number of these downwinders decreases by the day due to the many cancers and illnesses caused by the government’s testing. However, their families are still suffering and will continue to suffer as the years go on.
The lives of these Mohave County residents, the care they were promised as part of these tests, and their families depend on this change.