Rep. Ben McAdams attacks President Donald Trump’s plan for new nuclear testing

(Lee Davidson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, speaks against renewed nuclear testing during a news conference on Monday, July 6, 2020, at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. Next to him are pictures of the "Sedan" test in Nevada exactly 58 years earlier.

West Valley City • Rep. Ben McAdams stood beside a picture of the 104-kiloton “Sedan” nuclear weapons test that occurred exactly 58 years ago in Nevada, spreading radioactive debris downwind into Utah and much of the rest of the nation.

“The radioactive fallout from that single test contaminated more U.S. residents than any other nuclear test,” McAdams said Monday. “Today, however, no one in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis or Weber counties … is eligible to receive compensation for fallout-related cancers.”

So, he and groups of “downwinders” called on Congress to expand the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which compensated some cancer victims in nine southern Utah counties, to include all of Utah and many other states. They also called on lawmakers to block a proposal by President Donald Trump to restart nuclear testing in Nevada.

Problems from fallout in earlier tests was not in “southern Utah alone. It was all of Utah. [Radiation] spread across the West. It went into upstate New York. Americans across this country have paid dearly,” downwinder Mary Dickson said at a news conference at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. “We are all downwinders.”

McAdams said that a 1997 National Institute of Cancer study found that every state received some level of fallout from nuclear testing and said 200,000 cases of thyroid cancer alone were associated with it — but said RECA doesn’t recognize or compensate many victims.

“Today, we know that RECA falls short of making amends to hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffered illness and death, yet never even got so much as an apology from their government,” he said. “That’s wrong.”

He has signed on as a co-sponsor to amendments to bill pushed by Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., which would extend RECA eligibility to all 29 Utah counties plus 11 other states. It would also continue RECA funds past the current scheduled expiration in 2022, to 2045.

“It’s not about ‘just us,’ it’s about justice,” said Steve Erickson, a longtime downwinder activist. “It’s time for justice for all those who have suffered from exposure to radioactive fallout.”

McAdams also supported proposed language in House appropriations bills that would block spending any money to prepare for or to restart renewed nuclear testing, which the Trump administration recently proposed.

McAdams said renewing such testing could create a new generation of cancer victims from fallout.

“There is even proposed funding in the Senate for [Nevada] Test Site readiness at a time when thousands of Utahns are still suffering and dying from radiation exposure related cancers,” McAdams said. “This is unconscionable.”

McAdams added that all other Republican and Democratic administrations in recent decades have certified that the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile is effective and secure, and saw no need for additional testing.

McAdams, the only Democrat in the Utah congressional delegation, is also the only Utah member who has spoken out against the proposal to resume testing. Burgess Owens, his GOP opponent in the general election, has supported Trump’s move.

When asked last month on K-TALK if he supported Trump’s proposal, Owens said, “Absolutely. … I will support everything that President Trump is doing in that arena.” He added, “Yes, I will be supporting our president because he supports our country … and he just needs some backbone in the House and Senate” to help him on such issues.

McAdams said an accident at his news conference served as an unintentional metaphor about problems created by nuclear testing.

A child knocked off of a table and shattered a glass bottle that had been full of sunflower seeds — part of a demonstration by the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons that used bottles with different numbers of seeds to portray the different size of the nuclear stockpiles of different countries. The seeds scattered over a wide area, as children tried to pick them up.

“It spread everywhere and the kids were left to clean it up. A very fitting metaphor,” McAdams said.