SALT LAKE CITY — The Second Annual Day of Remembrance was held this past weekend for the many Utahns who were exposed to radiation during the mid-20th Century. They’re called the downwinders, and many have met early deaths as a result of that exposure.
The first nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site happened in 1951. The explosion carried radioactive materials to St. George, where thousands developed cancer.
Sixty-two years later, people are still seeing the effects. Family members of those who’ve died want to make sure their loved ones aren’t forgotten.
At a vigil Sunday, those family members gathered at the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City to light a candle in memory of a downwinder and his or her story.
“My grandmother went outside and told my grandfather, ‘You should come inside. A test is about to go off.’ And my grandfather said, ‘Oh Roma, the government would never do anything to harm us,’” Ali Sadler said.
She lost several family members to radiation-related leukemia.
“At the time, no one understood why everyone was dying — why all these children were suddenly getting sick,” Ali said.
One family member she never knew stands out in her mind. His name was Sheldon Nisson, and he captured video of the atomic testing in 1956.
The federal government never warned Utahns the fallout could make them sick. Nisson died from leukemia at just 13 year old.
Ali’s mother, Cindy Sadler, said she is still seeing the effects in her own family.
“My brother just found a lump on his thyroid, and his daughter had thyroid cancer; so you never know where that fallout ends,” Cindy said.
Full text at Group gathers to remember Utah downwinders at vigil