HIST 3770, Spring 2016: Nuclear West: The Downwinders' Fight for Compensation
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.
Mrs. Kent Calvert had initially received information from the Duncan, Brown, Weinberg, and Palmer law offices based in Washington D.C., concerning an investigation into the people who had experienced fallout and contracted forms of cancer in their later years. According to the letter dated 2 March 1979, Mrs. Calvert was living in Tempiute, or Alamo, while testing was under way. The key point in the letter assumes that the people living in the community when nuclear testing was under way contracted various forms of cancer, or had children born with birth defects.
Mrs. Calvert’s daughter, Joan Calvert, died on June 13, 1989 in Mckay-Dee Hospital because of birth defects that had been contracted when living in close proximity to the testing site in Tempiute. Her letter to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, dated 08 November 1990, explains in grim detail how many members of the community had children born with birth defects and how the camp was constantly monitored by the Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC claimed to Mrs. Calvert's mother, who was serving as a cook at the boarding house there, that even though “radioactivity was extremely high in the area...all adults should stay indoors but it was ‘safe’ for the children to be outdoors.” On another letter written the same day, but to Representative James Hansen, Mrs. Calvert congratulates him on his divisive victory in the passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, she asks him to inform her of the next steps she should take to receive compensation for her family.
However, on a misdated letter to Mrs. Calvert, Rep. James Hansen informs her that no funds had been appropriated to pay for the benefits, but he does suggest filing a claim on her own, “postpon[ing] retaining an attorney until the regulations are completed and you are able to evaluate your own situation in regards to the guidelines.” No further information regarding Mrs. Calvert’s compensation - whether it was granted or not - is available.
Mary Chidester contacted Congressman James Hansen’s office in December of 1990 looking for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. She and her husband grew up in Panquitch, Utah. She wrote of her husband’s death in 1980 due to cancer caused by nuclear testing. She had had several surgeries for cancer herself. She also writes of her children playing while pink dust fell on them due to atomic testing. Hansen’s response that came to Chidester in January 8, 1991 states that funds had not been appropriated yet, though she could file a claim.
Robert "Bob" Carlyle Carter was born in Salt Lake City on September 15, 1939. On July 6, 1957, while serving for the Air Force, Carter witnessed the 77 kiloton explosion of what is known as the “Hood Shot” at the Nevada Testing Site. In his own words, he was “thrown to the hillside and covered in nuclear dust.” He was declared a disabled veteran due to his injuries.
"Doctor says fallout study too little, too late"
Dr. Craig Booth, a general practitioner in the area for 17 years as well as medical director at Dixie Medical Center and past president of the The Utah Medical Association, said that the $7 million fallout study is limited. At the time of the exposure period, there were 4,500 residents in St. George. The $7 million study would cost about $1,500 a person. Booth said a more accurate study should have been conducted in 1957 at the time of exposure, leaving the the recent 1990 study too late. 
"Fallout victims characterized as 'walking time bombs'"
1st Congressional District Democratic candidate Kenley Brunsdale characterizes victims of radiation and uranium miners as ‘walking time bombs’. Brunsdale predicts 75 percent of eligible claimants would receive compensation while the other 25 percent were taken off an eligibility list. A woman in a private anti-nuclear group in Cedar City said, “I’ve had two tumors removed and I’ve been able to stay ahead, but I’m a time bomb.” Speaking of uranium miners in Marysvale, Brunsdale said, “They will die of cancer if they don’t get in a car accident first. They are walking time bombs.” 
 Graff, Sandi. “Doctor Says Fallout Study Too Little, Too Late.” The Daily Spectrum [St. George] 2 Aug. 1990: Series 60. Box 1. “Downwinders”. The Papers of Congressman James V. Hansen, Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives.
 Webb, Loren. “Fallout Victims Characterized as ‘walking time bombs’”. The Daily Spectrum [St. George] 25 Oct. 1990: Series 60. Box 1. “Downwinders”. The Papers of Congressman James V. Hansen, Utah State University, Merill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 “OWENS, Douglas Wayne (1937-2002),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: 1774-Present, accessed April 20, 2016, bioguide.congress.gov.
 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Strategic Information and Regulations (Washington D.C.: International Business Publications, 2014), 101.
 “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 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.
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was passed into Public Law on October 15, 1990. The act stated that the federal government recognized: “fallout emitted during the Government’s above-ground tests in Nevada exposed individuals who lived in the downwind affected area in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. . . ." The bill also recognized similar damages to uranium miners and those that were present on-site during nuclear testing. Congress went on in the bill to issue an apology, “The Congress apologizes on behalf of the Nation to [downwinders and those affected by fallout from federal nuclear testing] and their families for the hardships they have endured.”
The bill allocated $50,000 compensation towards those that were affected by downwind fallout from nuclear testing, while those related to uranium mining and on-site testing received $100,000 and $75,000 respectively.
In order to qualify for the compensation granted by RECA, a Downwinder was required to be “physically present in the affected areas” for 1-2 years within specified dates identified in the bill as ranging from 1951-1958, and a month in the summer of 1962. Medical documentation of diseases related to exposure of radiation was also required, such as documentation of childhood leukemia. The affected areas are listed as:
Utah: Washington, Iron, Kane, Garfield, Sevier, Beaver, Millard, and Piute counties
Nevada: White Pine, Nye, Lander, Lincoln, Eureka counties, and parts of Clark County.
Arizona: Areas north of the Grand Canyon and west of the Colorado R. 
After years of protracted legal, scientfic, and legslative battles, the appeals of thousands of Americans had been heard. First-hand accounts of the effects of fallout were given that inspired an emotive response to the tragedy. Representatives from the state of Utah witnessed these testimonials in letters and hearings and sought to gather support to pass this bill into law. This bill serves to compensate and apologize to those that were affected by the government's unsafe testing of nuclear devices.
 Public Law 101-426: Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, 15 October 1990, Box 1, “Downwinders”, James V. Hansen Papers, Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University Merilll Cazier Library.