Raymond Harbert may not have the words to describe it.
“It is really hard to relay all the feelings you get from one of those megaton tests,”
But he never forgot the details of the detonation of a nuclear bomb well.
“If you can imagine, 40 miles away, and you can feel the heat when it arrives. It arrives at a separate time. It’s a prickly heat, and then the pressure wave coming—the brightness. The feeling when they finally say, you can take your glasses off. Those are memories that will stick with me for the rest of my life,” said Harbert.
In this 2005 interview conducted by the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Harbert lays out an experience shared by thousands of Americans exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons tests between 1945 and 1962.
The fallout has lasted for decades.
“People don’t realize over 200 above-ground tests were done between 1945 and 1962, and an additional 900+ were done after that below ground. Which exposed Nevadans, people in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, places that were downwind of these tests to fallout,” said Dr. Laura Shaw.
Shaw works with the Nevada Radiation Exposure Screening & Education Program or RESEP at UNLV to provide medical services and cancer screening to people who are known as downwinders.
“We review their history, we look at their medications, we offer additional screenings that include colon cancer screening, lung imaging, labs that screen for diabetes, anemia, cholesterol, so we do a lot,” said Shaw.
It’s all paid for by the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or RECA. The law was passed in 1990. The fund is set to expire in July 2022.
“These people have another 30, 40 years, hopefully, to live that were potentially exposed, so we need this program much, much longer,” said Shaw.
Some in Congress are attempting to extend and expand the fund.
“Tragically, for some, it is already too late. We’ve lost Idahoans Sheri Garmin, Teresa Valberg, and Srgt. 1st Class Paul Cooper to Cancer,” said Sen. Mark Crapo, (R) Idaho, in a congressional hearing.
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2021 have been introduced in both the House and Senate and have been referred to committees.
Dr. Shaw remains hopeful it will pass.
“Cancer is still going to happen. These people are going to develop problems associated with their previous exposure. Cancer can happen years later, and it’s not going to pay any attention to any deadlines,” she said.