July 16, 2019

Luján, Members of Congress Introduce Legislation to Expand Compensation for Individuals Impacted by Radiation Exposure

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, introduced legislation to expand compensation for individuals exposed to radiation while working in and living near uranium mines or downwind from nuclear weapon test sites. 

Tens of thousands of individuals, including miners, transporters, and other employees who worked directly in uranium mines, along with communities located near test sites for nuclear weapons, were exposed during the mid-1900s to dangerous radiation that has left communities struggling from cancer, birth defects, and other illnesses.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019 provides health and monetary compensations for individuals who were exposed to high levels of radiation that caused sickness, cancer, and deaths in New Mexico and across the country. RECA was first passed in 1990 to ensure the federal government met its responsibilities to Americans who made sacrifices for our national security. The legislation has more than 35 co-sponsors.

Without this legislation, the current authorization for RECA will expire in two years – leaving thousands without the ability to pay for their medical care for illnesses directly linked to the exposure.

Native and tribal communities were disproportionally exposed to the dangerous radiation in New Mexico and in other communities throughout the U.S. This legislation will seek to rectify this significant disparity and help bring justice to all the communities exposed.

Specifically, the RECA legislation:

Congressional Apology: Includes a congressional apology to the individuals in New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands who were exposed to radiation.

Extension of Fund: Amends the original Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund until 2045. The original act sunsets in 2022.

Claims Relating to Uranium Mining: Extends to December 31, 1990, the period during which an individual employed in a uranium mine or a uranium mill is eligible to receive compensation for a disease claim due to radiation exposure.

Claims Relating to Atmospheric Testing: Expands the definition of affected Downwind states to include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Guam; which have been shown to be impacted by downwind contamination. 

Residency Requirements: Expands the proof of residency requirements to be consistent with Native American law, custom, and tradition.

“Throughout my time in Congress, I’ve fought to ensure justice for communities impacted by radiation exposure – including miners, workers, and downwinders. Radiation exposure has taken the lives of too many and continues to hurt our communities. I know how important this legislation is for New Mexico families that have been affected. This legislation will extend compensation for those individuals who played a role in our national security and help make those individuals whole,” said Assistant Speaker Luján. “Radiation exposure disproportionally impacted Tribal communities and Native Americans in New Mexico – a health, justice, and fairness disparity that has lingering impacts to this day. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019 will help right past wrongs and I’m proud to champion this effort in the Congress.”

“The federal government failed to protect tens of thousands of uranium miners, their families and nearby communities who were unknowingly exposed to large amounts of radiation as our country began developing our nuclear arsenal. This bill will finally provide all those who were exposed to radiation as a result of these mining activities the compensation and care they deserve,” said Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO)

“I am proud to join Congressman Lujan in the introduction of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019. Countless American workers sacrificed their health during nuclear weapons testing decades ago, however, many are still unable to receive the compensation they deserve for cancer and other illness contracted from the radiation exposure,” said Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) “This legislation would help ensure that the U.S. fulfills its rightful obligation to take care of those workers who sacrificed for our country.”

“We must ensure that every individual who was exposed to dangerous radiation from atomic weapons testing in our state receives the full support of the federal government. This important legislation will help provide the financial assistance that Downwinder communities deserve throughout Nevada and across this nation,” said Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV).

“Uranium mining and atomic testing has left a toxic legacy across the Southwest. Generations later, families are dealing with the contamination caused by this activity,” said Congressman Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.). “I am proud to join my colleagues today to introduce legislation that expands efforts to extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act until 2045 and ensure that Arizona families impacted by the testing, mining, and cleanup of radioactive material receive the compensation they deserve.”

“Anyone who has sacrificed their health for the defense of our country deserves to be compensated, but there are communities in New Mexico impacted by uranium mining and atomic weapons tests who are still hurting and have never been compensated,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.). “The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments introduced today will provide justice for the downwinders and miners who have been overlooked but still suffer from those impacts.”

“New Mexican families and tribes continue to pay the price for the nuclear research advanced during the Cold War era. The federal government must fairly compensate them for the price they’ve paid for making those advances and the damage to their health. This issue hits home for New Mexicans. We can’t renege on our responsibility to care for those our government unintentionally harms,” said Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.).

"This legacy issue for the people of Guam is more than about policy; it is about cancer, it is about the  major impact these diseases have on our families, it is about the life and death of loved ones past, present, and future, and we are humbled to join Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján in making this right," said Congressman Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam).

“The Navajo Nation appreciates Representative Ben Ray Luján for introducing this important measure, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019. Many Navajos worked in uranium mines during the Cold War-era without being informed of the hazardous conditions. Now, many have passed on and many others are still suffering from uranium exposure. It is time for Congress to act and pass this bill. Our people have suffered and waited too long,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

“I would like to thank Rep. Ben Ray Luján for introducing this important bill that would provide help to many former uranium miners who have been left out of process. They have sacrificed their health and well-being mining this dangerous natural resource for this country and have suffered for too long. We need Congress to act and pass this bill to support their needs as well as their families who have also felt the negative side effects of the uranium mining legacy. It is time we bring closure to these families through increased support and benefits,” said Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Crotty.

“The 2019 RECA Amendments are paramount in correcting the inequities of the current RECA program that excludes many individuals that were affected by the United States production and testing of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. These amendments would include uranium workers that worked between 1971 and 1990 that do not currently qualify for benefits but are suffering and dying from the same illness and diseases as their predecessors. Our nuclear power would not exist without the efforts of these workers bringing the uranium ore out from underground, transporting it to milling sites, and preparing the yellow cake for plutonium production. But the Post ’71 uranium workers are not eligible for any benefits for all of their efforts to keep uranium stockpiled for the protection of our country. They should not be forgotten or ignored as their efforts were instrumental in the defense of our country and it is past time for our government to do the right thing for these workers,” said Linda Evers, Vice President and Spokesperson for Post ’71 Uranium Workers Committee.

“Congressman Ben Ray Luján has been a champion for the people of New Mexico as it relates to the passage of the amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to include the Downwinders of New Mexico. We’ve been ignored for 74 years and Rep. Lujan has made this issue a legislative priority. I believe his efforts will someday deliver compensation and health care coverage for the people of New Mexico who were harmed by the detonation of the first nuclear bomb at the Trinity site. We commend him for his efforts and remain grateful for all he has done to support us,” said Tina Cordova, Co-Founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

"We are grateful to Congressman Luján for his stellar leadership to ensure that the Trinity Downwinders are included in RECA.  We also want to thank him for his wisdom to include those exposed to fallout in New Mexico from the above-ground tests at the Nevada Test Site, which ended in 1962.  We wholeheartedly support both efforts," said Joni Arends, Steering Committee Member, Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

"The people of Guam thank and applaud Congressman Ben Ray Luján and sponsors for their compassionate and just recognition of the cancer and other ailments suffered on Guam from downwind exposure to Nuclear fallout, as determined in a report to Congress 2005: “Assessment of the Scientific information for the radiation exposure Screening and Education program " by the National Academy of Sciences," said Robert N. Celestial, President of the Pacific Association for Radiation Survivors Guam.

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