Downwinders Compensation Bill Again Introduced in Congress

Jan 31, 2019

An Arizona congressman wants to expand benefits to some Southwestern residents who suffered health problems from nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

A 14 kiloton nuclear blast at the Nevada Test Site on Oct. 30, 1951.

Arizona Republican Paul Gosar’s bill would broaden the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to include parts of Mohave County and Clark County, Nevada that were originally left out. Gosar estimates about 20,000 people known as “downwinders” who suffer from cancer and other diseases caused by radiation exposure could be eligible for one-time payments.

"Most of these people are stalworth people—they’re not asking for much. In fact, the compensation is roughly about $35,000. That doesn’t go a long way … these people are included and they have a right to be included," he says.

Gosar has introduced similar legislation in the past, but Congress has never approved it. He acknowledges its price tag could stretch into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The U.S. government tested more than 200 atmospheric nuclear weapons from the mid-1940s until 1962. Congress approved partial compensation for residents and uranium industry workers nearly 30 years ago after class action lawsuits were dismissed in court.