Originally Published: November 28, 2014 6 a.m.
It may come as a surprise that Yavapai County residents are on the official list of people affected by radioactive contamination downwind from the Nevada Test Site. One out of every seven tests dumped radioactive fallout on northern Arizona. People living or working in northern Arizona, southern Utah, and most of Nevada - for at least two years between Jan. 21, 1951, and Oct. 31, 1958, or in the month of July 1962 may have suffered cancer and other diseases caused by exposure to radiation.
After decades of denials by government officials who routinely assured the public that radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing was harmless, Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1990. RECA provides $50,000 per person compensation payments to "Downwinders" who later suffered from specific radiation-related cancers and other diseases. On Jan. 14, 2014, The Daily Courier published an article on longtime Prescott resident and former City Council member John Hanna, who died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - which the government acknowledged was likely caused by radiation from nuclear testing. Sharlot Hall Museum Archives can help people determine if they are eligible for RECA payments.
"Downwind: A People's History of the Nuclear West," by Sarah Alisabeth Fox, does not mention Prescott, but it can provide the wider context of our local history.
Fox writes, "Many families" in the areas effected by fallout "kept livestock and gardens or bought meat, milk, and produce from their neighbors, unwittingly gathering radiological contamination... and placing it on their dinner tables." Downwind was published this year by the University of Nebraska Press, which is well known for its books on western history.
Downwind also tells the story of uranium miners on the Navajo Reservation and elsewhere in the Southwest who died from exposure to radiation. Stewart Udall, as Secretary of the Interior under Kennedy and Johnson, promoted uranium mining as an economic opportunity. He said he later "learned more than [I] wanted to know... about the epidemic that had settled like a plague over the families who lived in the vicinity."
Even after nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and elsewhere we continue to get the same official assurances that nuclear weapon and power facilities are safe. Fox concludes, "Long after the mushroom clouds have dissipated... and the reporters have moved on to the next big story, radiological contamination stays."
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