Monday is National Downwinders Day of Remembrance, which aims to honor those affected by the government’s testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s, including Utahns whose cancers were blamed on exposure to the radioactive fallout.
HEAL Utah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting nuclear issues in Utah, is hosting a free screening of the documentary film “Downwinders: Did the Government Kill John Wayne” on Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library.
“The event is primarily meant as an educational piece, but we do want to recognize the people who have been impacted by nuclear testing,” said Grace Olscamp, HEAL Utah’s communication associate.
“We also want to raise more awareness of [the downwinders] because there aren’t a lot of people in Utah who remember them.”
Families in southern Utah still remember the atomic testing, with many having family members who were exposed to fallout blown from the Nevada Test Site.
Filmmakers interviewed radiation specialists, cancer survivors and activists to get an idea of the total impacts that the nuclear testing had on residents in the small town of Enterprise, Utah.
Dave Timothy, one of the cancer survivors in the film, was stricken with thyroid cancer at the age of 19 and has had several tumors removed since. He said in the film that the hardest part is watching his friends die from cancer.
HEAL Utah, formerly called Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR), has been involved in nuclear politics in Utah since the 1990s.
The group is also focused on raising awareness of the impacts that radiation has had on uranium miners in Grand and San Juan counties.
According to Olscamp, HEAL Utah started looking at the mining operations because the miners were suffering from different types of cancers caused by contaminated soil and groundwater.
However, she says no group has been more affected by radiation than the Navajo Nation.
“Their citizens and miners have suffered the worst effects from radiation, but it is something that is talked about even less,” Olscamp said.
Because of the devastating effects of radiation, the federal government approved the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in the 1990s to compensate those with certain types of cancer that have been linked to nuclear testing and uranium mining.
Olscamp says federal legislation has been proposed aimed at expanding the compensation program.