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

UNLV Digital Collections

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.

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.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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