WEST VALLEY CITY — Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, called Monday for an extension of the federal compensation for Utahns, as well as residents of other states across the country, who were exposed to radiation from nuclear testing in Nevada and for a stop to new explosive nuclear weapons testing.
“Utah has paid dearly for trusting the government in the past. Nuclear clouds must never again be allowed to threaten the health and the safety of those living downwind,” the 4th Congressional District representative said during a news conference at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.
McAdams is a cosponsor of amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act from Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, that would increase compensation to $150,000 and expand eligibility for the program, now set to expire in 2022, to all Utah counties and 11 other states, Guam and the Mariana Islands, through 2045.
The legislation also lifts a limit on benefits to members of the Navajo Nation exposed to deadly radiation from working in uranium mines and mills, so those employed as miners, millers or ore transporters after 1972 can qualify.
He is also backing the Preserving Leadership Against Nuclear Explosives Testing (PLANET) Act, which has been introduced by two Nevada representatives and succeeded in getting language in a House spending bill to prohibit the use of funds to conduct or make preparations for any explosive nuclear weapons tests.
McAdams said that “shockingly,” President Donald Trump’s administration is talking about resuming nuclear testing, something he called “unconscionable” at a time when thousands of Utahns are still affected by cancers related to radioactive fallout.
Many affected by previous tests have been able to seek compensation, he said, including Utahns living outside Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Millard, Paiute, San Juan, Sevier, Washington and Wayne counties, or those who were not in specific counties in Arizona and Nevada.
More than $2.3 billion in payments have been approved for some 36,000-plus claimants since the program began in 1990, but McAdams said that still “falls short of making amends to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffered illness and death but never got so much as an apology by their government.”
He noted Monday marks the 58th anniversary of an underground bomb detonation at the Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas that spread a radioactive cloud that crossed Salt Lake City and continued over Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Studies by the National Cancer Institute have shown radioactive fallout from the testing, which ended in 1992, may have reached every state and may be responsible for as many as 212,000 cases of thyroid cancer alone, McAdams said, adding that former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, who grew up in Iron County, died at 61 from multiple myeloma.
“Utah families are still suffering and dying as a result of health effects from nuclear tests conducted decades ago. We have not yet compensated thousands of Utahns injured by their own government, who told them there was ‘no danger’ from nuclear weapons tests,” McAdams said.
Mary Dickson said she is a downwinder who grew up in Salt Lake City and had thyroid cancer.
“I watched people in my neighborhood get sick and die. I lost a sister. I have another sister who is fighting cancer now. I have watched the staggering human cost of nuclear testing and it has been incredibly painful,” she said at the news conference. “If we don’t keep telling our stories, they die with us.”
Dickson said she is convinced the current administration has no idea of the toll nuclear testing has taken.
Fallout, she said, wasn’t just a problem in southern Utah, but all of the state, as well as other parts of the country.
“Americans across this country have paid dearly. Americans who were deemed expendable by our own government, who are again being deemed expendable in the name of what? National security? I don’t think so. That we are even thinking about testing nuclear weapons again is beyond the pale to me,” Dickson said.
Labeling it “so immoral,” she said more lives have been lost to fallout than the novel coronavirus. “You know what? When that fallout spread across the United States, no one told us we were at risk. ... There were no masks that would have protected us. Nothing would have protected us.”
Deb Sawyer, Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said during the news conference that both the compensation act amendments and efforts to stop further testing are “critical concerns.” Sawyer said, like COVID-19, nuclear testing has affected the entire globe.
“We humans have some serious issues before us. We can all too easily trivialize others,” she said, describing the history of nuclear testing worldwide as being interwoven with racial injustice because of those most affected. “So we need to see how we have been wrong. And then we can change.”