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atomic detonation
May 5, 1955-Operation Cue Detonation

Between 1945 and the early 1980s, five nations detonated nuclear bombs including the United States. Nuclear testing was done in Nevada with radioactive contamination affecting not only that particular state, but also neighboring Utah and Arizona, with nuclear fallout reaching Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and California. However, Downwinders, people who were contaminated and reported adverse health effects due to their relative proximity to nuclear testing sites, in Nevada were given compensation by the federal government after a lengthy legal battle that spanned from the first case of contamination in the 1950s, until the passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in the early 1990s.

Owens Hatch Press
Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Wayne Owens holding a press conference addressing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in March 1989. (Senator's Photo Gallery) 
James V. Hansen
Photograph of Congressman James V. Hansen

Wayne D. Owens (D-UT) served in the House of Representatives from 1973-75 and 1987-1993. Owens introduced H.R. 2372 on May 16, 1989 to the House and worked closely with other western state representatives to represent the interests of those that suffered extremely adverse health effects that are directly related to nuclear fallout.[1]

Orrin Hatch (R-UT) began his senate career in 1977 and, as another representative of the fallout-affected Utah, sought to continue federal actions toward compensating those in the United States that were affected by fallout from nuclear testing. The compensation efforts thus far raised had faced repeated defeats within Congress. Hatch and fellow western state representatives were unable to garner enough support in either House to move legislation forward.

When Hatch learned that an upcoming treaty provided compensation to individuals in the Marshall Islands that suffered from the effects of fallout from nuclear testing, Hatch essentially withheld consideration for The Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Kiribati and Tuvalu. The Reagan administration agreed with Hatch that it would no longer oppose compensation if Hatch considered the treaty. With this victory, it would still be another five years before the bill had enough support to pass into law. Hatch began a series of hearings and investigations into the issue in order to gauge the needs of those affected and to confirm scientifically that the victim's illnesses were caused by nuclear fallout.[2]

James V. Hansen (R-UT), a native of Salt Lake City, Utah, was elected as the 1st District of Utah in the House of Representatives on January 3, 1991 serving until January 3, 2003. His role as a representative to Utah brought in many letters from fallout victims in Utah seeking compensation. At the time the letters were written, funds for compensation had not been appropriated by Congress, leaving Hansen to write several letters back to victims sharing the devastating news.[3]

A series of hearings and testimonials began in St. George in southern Utah, deep in the fallout-affected areas. The purpose of these hearings was to learn the effects of nuclear fallout from those that sought compensation and to determine that fallout was indeed the cause of those ailments. The meeting was presided over by Senator Orrin Hatch, as well as Congressmen Jim Hansen and Howard Nielsen, all (R-UT), and attended by survivors of nuclear testing and their representatives.

[1] “OWENS, Douglas Wayne (1937-2002),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: 1774-Present, accessed April 20, 2016, bioguide.congress.gov.

[2] U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Strategic Information and Regulations (Washington D.C.: International Business Publications, 2014), 101.

[3] “HANSEN, James Vear (1932- ),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: 1774-Present, accessed April 20, 2016, bioguide.congress.gov.
Nuclear Compensation Sought
On April 9, 1988, a congressional committee met to hear testimony about the plight of downwinders.[1]

[1] Webb, Loren. “Nuclear Compensation Sought.” The Daily Spectrum [St. George] 9 Apr. 1988: Collection 351 Box 1, Series 60. “Downwinders”. The Papers of Congressman James V. Hansen, Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives.

“Nuclear Compensation Sought”

On April 9, 1988, a congressional committee consisting of Orrin Hatch, Jim Hansen, and Howard Nielson met with victims of nuclear fallout as well as radiation experts in St. George, Utah.  Downwinders were frustrated due to the inability to sue the federal government for compensation for injuries sustained due to radiation testing done in the 1950s and 1960s. The committee met to discuss the writing of an Act that would compensate victims from a $150 million trust fund. Various victims testified of their experiences, including Robert "Bob" Carlyle Carter. Carter testified of his injuries sustained due to the detonation of the “Hood Shot” at the Nevada Testing Site in July 1957, claiming that his injuries permanently disable him. Various professionals also spoke at the meeting. Dorothy Legarreta, from the National Association of Radiation Survivors, suggested that any plan to give compensation “should be based on a 1987 Radiation Effects Research Foundation cancer estimate” that calculates risks for certain cancers at certain exposures. Dr. Ross Wooley, from the University of Utah, urged for more education about radiation effects on downwinders. It took two more years for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to be passed.