Episode 12: The Forgotten “Downwinders” of America’s Nuclear Testing Program

The United States conducted its last nuclear test on September 23, 1992 at the Nevada Test Site, just 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. By official count, more than one thousand tests were performed between 1945 and 1992. History depicts these tests as having taken place in the center of a vast, uninhabited plain. But as explosions filled the skyline and ashen fallout settled over the land like a dusting of snow, people who lived downwind were often exposed to radiation and radioactive debris. We’ve since heard about the scientists, government employees, homesteaders, and ranchers. In the shadows, there’s another pocket of victims… Have you ever heard of the forgotten downwinders?



This episode would not have been possible without the relentless dedication and advocacy of Ian Zabarte, Principal Man for the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation, secretary of the Native American Action Council, and a member of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Yucca Mountain Licensing Support Network, Advisory Review Panel. I also want to give a special thanks to author and historian Sarah Alisabeth Fox.


Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West; Sarah Alisabeth Fox; Bison Books, November 2014.

The Tainted Desert: Environmental and Social Ruin in the American West; Valerie L. Kuletz; Routledge; April 29, 2016.

The Light of Trinity; Wellerstein, Alex; The New Yorker; July 16, 2015.

Nuclear Testing and Natives People; Patricia George and Abel Russ; Reimagine; Retrieved April 2018.

History; Atomic Heritage Foundation; Retrieved April 2018.

The Sale of Yucca Mountain Was an Attack; Ian Zabarte; Indian Country Today; October 2, 2015.

Native Americans Bear the Nuclear Burden; Andreas Knudsen; Republic of Lakotah; April 20, 2010.

Nuclear Risk Management for Native Communities; George Perkins Marsh Institute; Clark University; Retrieved March 2018.

Downwinders: Survivors losing hope of compensation; Hubble Ray Smith; DailyMiner; January 17, 2018.

US nuclear tests killed far more civilians than we knew; Tim Fernholz; Quartz; December 21, 2017.

Survivors of America’s first atomic bomb test want their place in history; Kelsey D. Atherton; Popular Science; May 1, 2017.

American Indians accuse NRC of ‘environmental racism’; Keith Rogers; Las Vegas Review-Journal; September 26, 2015.

A Soil Contamination Survey of Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Lands Within Close Proximity to the Nevada Test Site; Bobb, Bonnie Dr.; Clark University; Retrieved March 2018.

In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud: Nuclear Testing, Radioactive Fallout and Damage to U.S. Agriculture; Meyers, Keith; September 1, 2017.