Senators Udall, Heinrich Call for Hearing on Need to Expand Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to Include Tularosa Downwinders, Post-1971 Uranium Workers

Senators’ bipartisan bill would expand populations receiving compensation

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced yesterday that they have asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on their work to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to expand compensation for victims of radiation exposure in New Mexico as well as several Western states and Guam. Udall, Heinrich and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced legislation earlier this year to amend RECA to cover victims of the government’s nuclear arms testing, including those living downwind of the Trinity bomb test in New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin and post-1971 uranium workers in Northwestern New Mexico.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the bipartisan group of senators cosponsoring the bill wrote, “Considering the importance of RECA to many of our constituents, we respectfully request that you move quickly to hold a hearing to bring to light existing deficiencies in the compensation program and to review our legislation.”

The RECA program was originally signed into law in 1990 to help some of the downwinders – people living downwind of nuclear tests sites who were sickened by exposure to clouds of radiation – along with uranium miners and millworkers who were poisoned due to a lack of protective workplace standards. However, the law limited compensation to individuals in certain counties in Utah, Colorado and Arizona. The senators’ bipartisan bill would expand RECA eligibility to include affected individuals in New Mexico, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Guam.

“It is time to review the effectiveness of RECA, and to renew debate over the populations who should be compensated through the program,” the senators continued in their letter.

“We can’t change the past or erase the years of pain and illness, but fair compensation would make a difference and provide badly needed help,” said Udall, who first introduced legislation to update the RECA law as a member of the House of Representatives. The senators’ bill builds on the efforts of Udall’s late father, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, who represented downwinders in the courts for many years and laid the groundwork for the original RECA legislation. “I’m committed to continuing to fight for fairness. A hearing would enable senators to get information about the importance of expanding this program and ensuring the innocent victims of the Cold War are compensated for their suffering.”

“New Mexico has made invaluable contributions to our nation’s nuclear history, but those contributions did not come without a cost,” Heinrich said. “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 effects. I will continue to work with our communities in New Mexico and push for the passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments so those whose health was compromised for our country receive the compensation, medical assistance, and justice they deserve.”

The full text of the letter is available HERE.