What are downwinders?
Downwinders are individuals and communities that were exposed to radioactive contamination or nuclear fallout due to nuclear weapons testing, the uranium industry, or nuclear accidents.
Here in Utah, communities were affected by nuclear weapon testing at the nearby Nevada Test Site and continue to be affected by the uranium industry.
HEAL Utah works to raise awareness of this painful history in our state by hosting screenings of Downwinders, collecting stories, and fighting to protect these communities from future harm. We advocate for the expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) because the impacts of this nuclear era are still felt today and individuals who lived during these times are still suffering without compensation.
Since HEAL’s inception we’ve been working on issues relating to nuclear weapons testing and the downwind populations that were affected by testing at the Nevada Test Site. Sadly, over the past decade, we came to realize that we were losing many of those downwinders who we had worked arm-in-arm with to stop testing and expand RECA compensation. Along with the painful personal loss experienced in the passing of these dear friends and allies, HEAL recognized that in the passing of these downwinders future generations would be deprived of their stories, experiences, and of the knowledge that comes from learning of the human costs exacted by our nation’s headlong rush into the nuclear age.
Partnering with the Utah Humanities Council, HEAL worked to gather and preserve some of the stories of Utah’s downwinders. HEAL’s staff member Rob DeBirk conducted and transcribed a dozen interviews. The transcripts and audio recordings are now housed with the Utah State Historical Society. Following the project’s completion, HEAL worked with local radio station KRCL and producer Troy Williams to edit some of the interviews into short segments for broadcast. Those interviews edited for KRCL’s RadioActive program can be found below.
Many thanks to the individuals who allowed us to share their stories and those of their families. Thanks also to the Utah Humanities Council, KRCL, and Troy Williams for their support.