Washington, D.C.- All four Senators representing Idaho and Montana are sponsoring new legislation that would make residents of the two states eligible for a federal government program that compensates people who lived in affected areas downwind of the Nevada Test Site during periods of atmospheric nuclear testing during the 1950s and 60s. Under the legislation, those victims would be compensated if they contracted cancer or other specified compensable diseases following the testing. The bipartisan legislation introduced today, S. 1342, would amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to include all of Idaho and Montana.
"The victims of this testing have waited years for just compensation and the cruel irony is that the federal government has postponed this action for so long that many aren't living to see this bill passed," Idaho Senator Mike Crapo said. "This is the third time we have introduced this legislation. It is of national importance and we hope we can expand the scope of the program because there are literally victims throughout the country."
Idaho Senator Jim Risch added, "We have to make this right. Research shows that radioactive elements impacted citizens in Idaho at that time. They deserve help for the health effects they have suffered. We must not delay any longer in getting this done,"
"This legislation is about stepping up and doing what's right for folks in Montana and Idaho, just like we've been doing for the other states already covered by RECA," said Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus. "We need to make sure we are taking care of folks who've been affected by nuclear tests, and this bill is a big step in the right direction."
"It makes common sense that folks who were exposed to dangerous substances due to the actions of the federal government deserve compensation for any suffering caused by that exposure," said Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana), a member of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee. "This bill is about doing right by Montanans and folks in other states who were left out of the original law that was based on geography rather than medical science."
Nuclear testing in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s released radiation into the atmosphere that settled in states far away from the original test site. Researchers determined that certain elements of this fallout, such as the radioactive isotope Iodine-131, settled in states such as Idaho and Montana and found their way into food and milk supplies. Radioactive contamination can manifest itself as various forms of cancer, leukemia and other illnesses, particularly thyroid cancer. Those affected in this way are often referred to as "downwinders," to denote their situation downwind from the fallout.
At present, these "downwinders" are now compensated only in parts of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, although studies show Idaho and Montana received some of the highest doses of radioactive fallout from the Nevada tests. Discussions continue with representatives from other states about expanding the geographic boundaries for those eligible to be compensated under RECA. The RECA act recognizes participants based on geography.