May 11, 2018

Luján Speaks on House Floor to Call for Compensation for Those Exposed to Radiation

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to continue his call for expanded compensation for individuals exposed to radiation while working in uranium mines or living downwind from atomic weapons tests. His speech came during debate on H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018.

Earlier this week, Luján submitted four amendmentsto the House Rules Committee, including the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2017, aimed at further widening qualifications for compensation under RECA. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Rules Committee blocked House floor consideration of these amendments.

This week’s actions continue Lujan’s ongoing efforts in this area. He has repeatedly introduced the RECA Amendments in past sessions of Congress. Last year, a sense of Congress authored by Luján expressing that the United States should compensate and recognize all those suffering from the effects of uranium mining and nuclear testing, was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives.

Congress passed RECA in 1990 to provide compensation for atomic veterans and a limited number of others who contracted cancer as a direct result of their exposure to atmospheric nuclear testing. Congress broadened the scope of the law a decade later to include additional individuals affected by radiation exposure. Lawmakers have since learned that there are even more individuals who are sick or dying from radiation exposure who have not been able to receive the compensation they deserve.

You can watch the video of Luján’s floor speech here. A transcript has been provided below.

Mr. Chairman, I oppose this bill because I believe that it makes it more likely that a future interim storage site, potentially one in New Mexico, becomes a permanent home for nuclear waste.

I know that these are tough issues and I agree that we have a responsibility to address the waste issue that result from our country entering the atomic age.

However, addressing nuclear waste is not our only responsibility. Seventy years ago, rural New Mexico became ground zero for the detonation of the first nuclear bomb. This marked the beginning of sickness and suffering for generations of people who lived and grew up in the Tularosa basin.

“That atomic bomb,” Gloria wrote to me, “has caused anguish to so many people in New Mexico. The people from New Mexico have suffered physically, mentally, and financially, and all we are here in hope that you will find a way to help us.”

It's been over seventy years since the Trinity Test. Seventy years, and the federal government has done almost nothing to recognize or compensate those impacted by that test.

They're not alone.

In 1990, Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to begin to right the wrong. However, we have since learned that there are many more individuals who are sick or dying because they worked in the uranium industry, lived near a mining operation, or lived downwind from a test. The Navajo, the Hopi, the Yavapi Apache Indian Reservations are particularly affected.

That is why I have repeatedly introduced the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments to compensate those workers.

We have had Navajo elders travel out here to Washington, D.C. and ask us in Congress: “Are you waiting for us all to die to solve this problem?”

The Rules Committee rejected amendments that I offered.

Why in the world is it that the people of New Mexico, where the first bomb went off are the only ones that are left out of protections? People in Nevada, Colorado, and Utah are included but New Mexico has been left off. The first place the bomb was tested- these people weren't given a warning. All they saw was a light flash while they were in their kitchens or outside working.

This deserves action. I hope I can work with my colleagues.