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Arizonans affected by nuclear tests would be compensated by new bill

(AP Photo, File)

PHOENIX — A renewed effort would compensate Arizonans affected by nuclear testing decades after the last bomb was detonated.

Two Arizona politicians, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation this week that would add Mohave County to a list of places downwind of Cold War nuclear testing that are eligible for compensation.

“It’s righting a wrong that has been there for a long time,” said Gosar, who has introduced similar legislation in the past.

Many people who were downwind of nuclear tests have developed cancers and other health issues. The so-called downwinders have been compensated by the U.S. government since the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990.

Kingman, Ariz. residents have been fighting for the federal government to recognize their health problems for decades. The RECA only recognizes the northern portion of Mohave County.

According to numbers compiled from the National Institute of Health and National Cancer Institute, residents of the southern portion of Mohave county had between 0.6-0.7 average rads per capita exposure to the thyroid. Gila and Yavapai counties, both of which are compensated under RECA, had 0.3.

Danielle Stephens, a longtime Kingman resident, claimed dust from atomic explosions landed on her while on horseback with her family.

“There was five of us on horseback and Daddy says ‘Here comes that dust, you guys. Ride as fast as you can and get low,'” Stephens said, adding that 33 family members have died of cancer.

Stephens’ brother, Dan Bishop, said he was asked by the military to wear a thermoluminescent dosimeter — a device that tests for radiation — while serving as a reserve deputy sheriff in 1957, six years after the first atomic detonation at the Nevada Test Site. He was never told what the devices recorded.

“I remember that nobody said anything about any kind of sickness,” Bishop said. “We knew it was an atomic blast, we knew there was a test site, but we didn’t know the ill effects. Nobody told us that.”

In order to get a better understanding of radiation, the government placed animals, buildings and mannequins, donated by J.C. Penney’s and other department stores in Las Vegas, at different distances from ground zero during nuclear tests to evaluate the effects.

But while officials were testing on dummies and sheep, they didn’t realize that the radiation was capable of traveling into Arizona and across the country, subjecting civilians to these tests.

The newest bill would also make residents of Clark County, Nevada — which includes Las Vegas — who were affected by the blasts eligible to received up to $50,000.

The bill would likely have a steep cost — possibility hundreds of millions of dollars — but Gosar said he feels it’s important to help those affected by nuclear tests.

Cronkite News’ Jessica Boehm contributed to this report.

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