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Downwinders of Utah Archive Opens At U's Marriott Library

University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Downwinders of Utah Archive
Nuclear detonation cloud heights compared to world-record tall buildings

A new Downwinders of Utah Archive opened Monday at the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library.

It interactively shows the story of radioactive fallout in Utah related to atmospheric nuclear testing in Nevada in the 1950’s. Justin Sorensen specializes in geospatial content at the Marriott Library. He says the Atomic Energy Commission’s primary focus in the early days of testing was creating an image of strength and superiority no matter the consequences.

“And that really was what the story was until you get to the late 70’s and 80’s when you see all these victims who are actually downwinders,” Sorensen says, “and what they’ve gone through, and ordeals, and really see what was actually happening at the time.”

Sorensen says the archive contains everything from recorded interviews with downwinders to extensive cartographic maps and dramatic images of mushroom cloud heights based on raw numbers.

“Ultimately the goal of this archive is really to keep this story alive because a lot of the downwinders are passing at this time and it’s important that we preserve this information and their stories so that the next generation knowns what happened and the same mistakes are not made again,” says Sorensen.

The archive includes videos of nuclear tests, newspaper articles and documents showing the impacts of the experiments as well as changes in the official government language related to the test detonations.

Bob Nelson is a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in mass communications. He began his radio career at KUER in 1978 when it was still in Kingsbury Hall. That’s also where he met his wife, Maria Shilaos, in 1981. Bob left KUER for commercial radio where he worked for 25 years, and he is thrilled to be back at KUER. Bob and his family are part of an explorer group, fondly known as The Hordes and Masses, which has been seeking out ghost towns and little-known places in Utah for more than twenty years.
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