SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – According to the University of Utah Health, a “downwinder” is a person who was exposed or presumed to be exposed to radiation from the explosion of nuclear devices at the federal Nevada Test Site. These nuclear tests took place in the 1950s and 1960s.

The radioactive materials released by these tests are called “fallout.” Winds carried the fallout hundreds of miles away from the test site. People living in the downwind area at the time of testing were exposed to varying levels of radiation. We now know that exposure to radioactive fallout may lead to certain types of cancer.

Mary Dickson, who is a downwinder that grew up in Salt Lake City, joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion about the personal impact the nuclear testing had on her life and those around her. She now advocates for U.S. radioactive fallout victims as her life’s work — writing plays, stories, articles, and even gave a speech in Japan about her experiences.

Former U.S. Representative Jim Matheson shared how his family was impacted by the nuclear testing, the fight at the federal level to get compensation for downwinders, and whether he has concerns that this issue will be lost with time with a small number of survivors remaining.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) is set to expire next year. But there is a new piece of legislation to extend and expand the compensation for people who were exposed to radioactive fallout from nuclear testing in the 1950s. Policy Analyst Steve Erickson discussed the nuts and bolts of RECA, whether he felt that past compensation has been adequate, and what he hopes to see with future legislation.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Dickson, Matheson, and Erickson, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.