Washington, DC –A bipartisan coalition of western U.S. Senators has introduced two measures to benefit Americans exposed to airborne radiation during nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and 1960s. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) introduced legislation to allow victims in a number of western states to file claims under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). The senators also introduced a Senate resolution marking January 27, 2017, as a national day of remembrance for those affected downwind from the above-ground nuclear weapons testing.
The original RECA program benefited those working with uranium mining and some testing programs, and was later expanded to benefit residents in parts of Utah exposed to nuclear testing. For more than a decade, advocates have endeavored to expand the RECA’s coverage to all Westerners negatively affected by nuclear fallout from weapons testing.
The new legislation, S. 197, would make residents in Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah eligible for medical benefits and other compensation if they can show they were harmed by the arms testing more than 50 years ago. The RECA program falls within the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Crapo recently joined this Committee, placing him in a position to push harder for a re-examination of the RECA program and its eligibility requirements.
“Many Idahoans got cancer as a result of their exposure to fallout from nuclear weapons testing. Congress has already expanded compensation to Utahns. It’s time we did it for Idahoans and our neighbors,” Crapo said. “As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over this program, I will be pushing for a hearing on this legislation.”
“During the Cold War, many New Mexicans and others across the West sacrificed their health and safety for our nation, Udall said. “While we can't undo the damage and suffering, it's long past time for the federal government to provide care and fair compensation for the Americans who developed cancer and other illnesses after working in uranium mines or being inadvertently exposed to radiation from nuclear bomb testing. Our bill is about fairness for the victims of the Trinity test site in New Mexico, the former uranium miners and their families in the Four Corners region, and other victims across the West who have been left out of the original law but deserve recognition and compensation for their hardships."
“For decades now, Idahoans have been pleading their case to the federal government for help in dealing with the health effects they suffered as a result of nuclear testing. This bill answers those pleas by providing the same assistance those in neighboring states already receive,” said Risch.
"Families who lived in and near the Tularosa Basin at the time of the Trinity Test, uranium mill workers, and uranium miners continue to cope with serious health problems due to exposure to radioactive nuclear material,” Heinrich said. “Congress needs to pass the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments to provide medical assistance and compensation to those who bore the health costs of our nation’s nuclear history. I will continue to fight for the justice these communities deserve.”
“This bill will help provide justice to Coloradans who served our nation working in the uranium industry and at nuclear weapons facilities, said Bennet. “It also provides needed assistance to individuals who were exposed to radiation due to where they lived. This is the least we can do to ensure that Colorado families receive long overdue treatment and fair compensation.”
The Senate resolution “encourages the people of the United States to support and participate in appropriate ceremonies, programs and other activities to commemorate that national day of remembrance.” Idahoans have participated in public hearings and assisted in national documentaries showing the damages from airborne radiation but the legislation has not drawn sufficient support to pass the Congress despite many attempts.