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Arizona’s “downwinders” who were subjected to nuclear tests during the Cold War are fighting for compensation



The federal government passed a compensation program for “downwinders” who lived near the Nevada Test Site and who suffered from cancers caused by radiation from nuclear explosions. However, unlike residents in other parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, residents of Kingman and Lower Mohave Counties were never compensated by the federal government.

Lower Mohave County’s residents don’t know why the federal government let them out of the 1990 Radiation Protection Act known as RECA. Legislators who have struggled for years to expand the program are not doing either. With RECA expected to end in 2022, there is an urgent need to involve residents like Stephens and their neighbors and relatives.

“We want to ensure that all affected families are adequately recognized and compensated,”

; said Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., Who this year, along with Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Introduced laws that would expand RECA includes all of Mohave County and Clark County, Nevada, the majority of which has also been removed from the compensation program.

“They suffered so we could advance American defense systems when we were testing nuclear missiles, and now we owe it to them to do our part to ensure that they are recognized, recognized and compensated,” Stanton said .

Stephens spent more than a decade as president of the Mohave County Downwinders, sending letters to lawmakers and collecting personal stories. She hopes that she and other downwinders can see these changes in their lives.

“We fought so long, so long,” she said. “I want it to be resolved.”

The dangers and consequences of nuclear testing were unknown to the public when testing began at the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site. One hundred of the nuclear tests at the site from 1951 to 1962 were above ground.

Stephens said it was some form of entertainment to catch a glimpse of the lightning bolts or huge mushroom clouds. Detonation times and dates were announced in newspapers. On test days, the children were given short breaks to stand in the school yard and watch the explosions turn the sky orange. In Las Vegas, just 65 miles from the test site, companies billed the tests as tourist attractions to view from hotel windows.

Stephens recalls that she, her father, her uncle, and her brother rode horseback into the Aquarius Mountains as teenagers in 1953 to get a better look at one of the nuclear explosions. When they saw the cloud shoot into the sky, they could feel the wind blowing smoke and dust towards them. They hurried off the mountain and tried to escape the fallout. But when they returned home their clothes were covered in oily pink stains, Stephens said.

“So everyone up there has cancer,” she said. Her father died of colon and kidney cancer. Her brother, who was still alive, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Colon cancer, which Stephens is also diagnosed with, falls under RECA.


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