canada africa partner reservation Downwinders in DC lobby House to approve compensation for radiation exposure

Downwinders in DC lobby House to approve compensation for radiation exposure


May 14 – More than thirty years after the end of the Cold War, the legacy of nuclear testing and the uranium mined to fuel an arms race continues to linger in a bleak half-life, most visible among those who have suffered serious health problems or have been lost. loved ones who have been exposed to radiation.

A coalition of radiation victims hopes to put a human face on the grim aftermath of a nuclear era fading in memory as they pressure congressional leaders to broaden compensation for exposure.

The group of downwinders, former uranium workers and survivors are at the U.S. Capitol this week to urge Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to vote on a bipartisan bill to expand who is eligible for compensation under the federal law.

The bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 69-30, has stalled in the House of Representatives because Republican leaders consider it too expensive.

It would allow New Mexico residents to receive federal compensation for exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear testing — including the atomic bomb detonated during the Manhattan Project at the Trinity Site in New Mexico’s southern desert — and uranium mining after 1971.

Those who lost family members due to radiation exposure would also be eligible.

“We would like some help and recognition from our government so that this doesn’t keep happening to other people,” said Mary Martinez White, a member of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

Only parts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah are now eligible for radiation exposure compensation. The bill would amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to cover the ineligible areas of those states, as well as New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Guam.

The measure also adds areas in Missouri, Alaska, Kentucky and Tennessee where residents were exposed to unsafe nuclear waste storage. And it would extend RECA for another five years.

But the clock is ticking.

The program ends June 7 and Congress will recess the last week of May and return in early June.

“So this is our last chance before sunset,” Martinez White said. “We are working with members of Congress to bring Representative Mike Johnson along.”

The victim advocates come from affected areas across the country, including Utah, Missouri, Texas and Guam, as well as from Navajo Nation and the Laguna and Acoma pueblos in New Mexico, she said.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, is sponsoring the bill along with Republican Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Hawley is seeking compensation for people who suffered serious health consequences from the federal government’s handling of uranium waste from processing plants in the St. Louis area.

Luján and Hawley decided to work together, believing that a bipartisan effort had the best chance of success. Their first bill received 61 votes in the Senate last year, enough to send it to the House of Representatives, which declined to expand compensation.

They hope their latest bill, which received even stronger Republican support, will have a better chance.

In New Mexico, many residents were exposed not only to radiation from the atomic Trinity test and uranium mining, but also to the effects of above-ground nuclear testing conducted in neighboring Nevada until the early 1960s.

Martinez White, 66, said she and her family are among the victims.

Her mother and a sister died of cancer and her father of leukemia, she said. Two sisters and a brother were luckier and survived cancer, she said.

A 40-year-old niece and an 18-year-old nephew had their thyroid glands removed because of cancer, she said, noting that thyroid problems are often linked to radiation exposure. She also has family members who struggle with chronic and fatal illnesses.

“We cannot ignore that damage; we cannot ignore those lives,” Martinez White said.

Some Republicans have opposed the proposed expansion of RECA because it will cost between $50 billion and $60 billion, a New Mexico congressman wrote in an email.

“Republicans are concerned about the bill’s price tag, but remember that the nuclear program has already incurred these costs – including the unfair costs borne by the victims left out of the original RECA,” wrote Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández. “The United States has already paid the other bills, they just need to pay this one.”

Leger Fernández wrote that she is inviting Johnson to join her and Downwinders for a candlelight prayer vigil on Wednesday so he can see the deep grief of the survivors.

“We pray that he will see the confidence we have that he will act,” she wrote.

Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Consortium, who was unable to make the trip to DC this year, said the US government has poured trillions of dollars into nuclear weapons. In contrast, it has spent only about $3.6 billion compensating downwinders, she said.

In that context, the funding proposed in the bill is “a pittance,” Cordova said.

Martinez White said her older cousin was working in a horse stable when the atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity Site. The blast blew out the windows of his house and radioactive ash fell from the sky, covering him, his horses, his crops and his livestock.

He ran into the house to check on his family, but didn’t realize he was bringing in toxic fallout that could make those close to him sick, she said.

But how could he know that?

He was suddenly thrust into an alien reality that had no precedent in human history.

Decades later, the administration knows the damage the nuclear tests and uranium work inflicted on people, many of whom were patriots serving their country, she said. They should be compensated out of fairness and as a lesson to those too young to remember how so many people were treated as collateral damage at the time.

“Going forward, we want to ensure that future generations do not ignore the lives of their own countrymen,” she said.