U.S. House Approves Measure to Compensate Arizona ‘Downwinders’

May 31, 2018

Many Southwesterners sickened by Cold War nuclear weapons testing were excluded from a 1990 federal compensation program. Now the U.S. House has approved a measure aimed at providing relief to the residents known as downwinders. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

A nuclear test explosion at the Nevada Test Site circa 1950s.
Credit UNLV Digital Collections

The original Radiation Exposure Compensation Act left out parts of Mohave County, the Hualapai Reservation, and southern Nevada, despite high rates of cancer and other diseases thought to be caused by nuclear fallout. The new House amendment orders the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to assess whether thousands are eligible for assistance.

"The American government made a promise with RECA, with the bill, and, by darn, we ought to follow through with it to make sure that anybody that was affected to be included in this process," says Arizona Republican Paul Gosar who authored the measure.

Residents who’ve developed some diseases could be eligible for a $50,000 payment, and have until July 9, 2022 to file claims.

Nearly 200 atmospheric weapons were tested north of Las Vegas between 1945 and 1962. In the last three decades, more than 20,000 downwinder claims have been filed with the Justice Department, totaling more than $2 billion.