Fallout: Part I of V<BR>Nuclear blasts more than just a schoolyard spectacle

Nuclear testing at the Las Vegas Test Site was a common occurrence during the years Eleanor Fanire, 58, attended junior high and high school in Kingman.

Teachers and students would file out into the schoolyard to watch radioactive dust clouds fill the skies over Las Vegas.

"When the test site tested a bomb we were taken outside to watch," Fanaire said.

"It was like going outside to see it rain.

We were told it was safe."

It was not.

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More than 100 above-ground nuclear tests and five so-called "safety tests," that involved dispersing plutonium, were conducted in Nevada from 1951 through 1963 according to a 1989 government assessment of nuclear testing.

The Office of Technology Assessment report states that 12 billion units of radioactivity were released during above ground tests at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

During this time United States government officials continued to assure the public that radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing was harmless, Fanire said.

Since then Fanire has contracted ovarian cancer, on a list of cancers that can be caused by exposure to radiation from nuclear testing; and several members of her family have contracted various forms of cancer also on the list.

Many of Fanire's former classmates, friends and neighbors who lived in Mohave County during the years of testing have also contracted forms of cancer associated with Iodine-131, one of the radioactive materials released during atomic bomb tests.

Before the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was created in 1990, Fanire and her family were unaware of the connection between radiation fallout from the Nevada Test Site and life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

Now referred to as "downwinders," residents who may have been contaminated by radiation fallout from the Nevada Test Site, Fanire and other Mohave County residents who are battling cancer or who have lost a family member to a life-threatening disease such as cancer, are fighting another battle.

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The Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, administrated by the U.S.

Department of Justice, was approved to provide compensation for individuals with certain diseases related to radiation exposure.

First introduced in 1981 by Sen.

Orrin Hatch of Utah, the program provides payments to individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases as a result of their exposure to radiation released during above ground nuclear weapons tests, or as a result of their exposure to radiation during employment.

RECA specifies a payment of $50,000 to downwinders physically present in certain counties during certain periods of nuclear testing.

The payment can also go to a family member if the downwinder has died.

In 1992 the Department of Justice established procedures to resolve claims.

Later, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2000 was enacted.

At that time, widespread changes were made, including adding additional diseases and adding new categories.

Since the program began 10,141 claims from downwinders have been received by the Department of Justice.

Of those, 6,519 have been approved for a total of $325,920,000; 1,530 claims are pending and 2,092 downwinders' claims were denied as of Aug.

27, 2003.

In addition to downwinders, other people eligible for compensation include: uranium miners, uranium millers, ore transporters and onsite participants.

Downwinder Roy Steele - who suffers from multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects the plasma of white blood cells - and Fanire are just two of hundreds of Mohave County downwinders who have had their claims rejected.

The reason given by the U.S.

Department of Justice for rejection of their claims?

They do not qualify because Mohave County is not a geographical area covered under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

"It really upsets me that we lived so close to the Nevada Test Site," Fanire said.

"Yet Mohave County was excluded while residents from counties all around us receive compensation."

In Arizona, counties included under RECA are: Yavapai, Navajo, Apache, Gila and "that part of Arizona that is north of the Grand Canyon, according to the U.S.

Department of Justice, Civil Division.

In Utah designated geographical areas are the counties of Washington, Iron, Kane, Garfield, Sevier, Beaver, Millard, Piute, Wayne and San Juan.

In Nevada the counties of Whate Pine, Nye, Lander, Lincoln, Eureka, and portions of Clark County within townships 13-16 at ranges 63-71 are covered.

Fanire, Steele and Mohave County residents who have lost family members exposed to radiation during the years nuclear testing was conducted just 170 miles from Kingman, can't understand why Mohave County was not included when the act was first created, and then when it was amended in 2000.

Fanire has formed a group called the "Mohave County Downwinders."

The downwinders are trying to get Mohave County on the map of areas designated by law, so that they, and others who were affected, can receive compensation for their diseases.

More than 70 downwinders attended the first meeting.

The second meeting will be held at 6 p.m.

Sept.

11 at the Kathryn Heidenrich Adult Center.

To contact Mohave County Downwinders call 753-6051 or write to the: Mohave County Downwinders, P.O.

Box 730, Kingman Ariz.

86402.

The e-mail address is: mohavedownwinders@kingmnaaz.net.

Part II: Cold War test blasts blamed for many cancers.