Downwinders: The Ultimate Patriots


The Ultimate Patriots

During the first decade of the Atomic Age, the United States tested 100 nuclear weapons in the open, first in New Mexico and later Nevada. Tens of thousands of civilians were unwittingly exposed to deadly radioactive fallout from each detonation as it blew eastward, downwind from the test site.

The government’s approach from the beginning was to offer as little information as possible, to minimize the hazards, and deny or cover up any claims of harm. But gradually, the danger became increasingly evident, as first livestock, and later people, began to sicken and die from fallout exposure.

They were farmers and ranchers and small-town milkmen in New Mexico, Nevada and southern Utah who lived downwind from the test sites; and they were patriots, maybe the ultimate patriots. In this episode, listen as several Downwinders talk about their personal experience dealing with this radioactive plague.

Thirteen year-old Barbara Kent was at summer camp in New Mexico when she played in the radioactive ash of the Trinity test.
In the race to develop the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer's Trinity test inadvertently exposed thousands of unsuspecting American citizens to toxic radioactive fallout.


Tina Cordova
Tina is a Downwinder and  founder of the
Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, lobbying for the rights of New Mexicans exposed to fallout from the Trinity test  

Ilene Hacker
Ilene is a Downwinder and activist. After her father’s cancer death at age 48, this resident of St. George Utah began a life-long campaign for recognition and compensation for downwinders

Barbara Kent
Barbara is a Downwinder and cancer survivor. As a child, Barbara played in the fallout from the Trinity test, believing it was snow.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani
Dr. Makhijani is a nuclear engineer; he is currently President of the
Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. He wrote Radioactive Heaven and Earth

Speakers from other sources: Frank Butrico; Janet Gordon; Claudia Peterson; Elmer Pickett; Preston Truman; Richard Whitehouse

Thank you to the J. Willard Marriott Library Downwinders of Utah Archives

Additional Resources:

Press the Button Excellent podcast produced by the Ploughshares Fund. Their new season, The Shadow of Oppenheimer, looks at the “radiation-exposed lives that exist in the shadow of Oppenheimer’s nuclear legacy.” 

Press the Button: How many people have to die from nuclear weapons until we get it? Features Tina Cordova

AP story about Downwinders reacting to the movie “Oppenheimer”

AP story about cancer in Trinity Downwinders

Oppenheimer’s legacy in New Mexico is complicated Axios

The legacy of Oppenheimer you won’t see in the theaters  Physicians for Social Responsibility 

Trinity Nuclear Test’s Fallout Reached 46 states, Canada and Mexico, Study Finds  New York Times

Study referenced by above NYTimes article: Fallout from U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests  in New Mexico and Nevada (1945-1962)

J. Willard Marriott Library Downwinders of Utah Archives

Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium

Institute for Energy and Environmental Research 

YouTube: Did the Government Kill John Wayne?  

YouTube: The Major Hollywood Movie That Killed Nearly Half its Cast and Crew