Senators Udall, Heinrich Lead Bipartisan Coalition to Expand Relief for Americans Sickened by Radiation Exposure

Radiation Exposure Compensation Act will help New Mexicans, others get care they need

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich led a bipartisan group of senators this week in renewing their efforts to expand restitution for victims of radiation exposure related to U.S. nuclear arms testing in the 1950s and 1960s. As a part of that effort, the senators introduced the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which seeks to expand RECA eligibility to affected individuals in New Mexico, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Utah.

Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) joined Udall and Heinrich to introduce the bill.

“During the Cold War, many New Mexicans and others sacrificed their health and safety for our nation, and it is our solemn duty to ensure they receive quality care and compensation. Tragically, our government hasn’t fulfilled that ideal for many Americans who worked in uranium mines or were inadvertently exposed to radiation during the Cold War nuclear arms race,” Udall said. “This bill is a step forward for downwinders, former miners and their families who deserve compensation for their hardships.”

“New Mexico has a long and storied history of contributing to our national security and energy needs, including communities that were essential to the mining and processing of uranium during the Cold War. Thousands of uranium mill workers and miners are still suffering long-term health consequences, such as cancer, as a result of their exposure to uranium dust and other hazardous materials,” Heinrich said. “These workers sacrificed their heath and their lives for our country, and this legislation would help make good on our responsibility to compensate them so that they can receive care they deserve.”

“Idaho communities and individuals who have been adversely affected by our nation’s weapons programs must be justly and sufficiently compensated by the federal government,” Crapo said. “I recognize the burden placed upon cancer patients and their families to pay for the expensive regimen of treatments this disease requires, and this legislation is an important step in helping Idahoans get the care they need and deserve.”

“For years and years, Idahoans have been making their case to the federal government for help in dealing with troubling health issues and even cancer that they suffer from as a result of nuclear testing,” Risch said. “This bill would afford Idahoans the same assistance that neighboring states already receive for victims of radiation exposure who so badly need help.”

Since its creation in 1990, RECA was designed to assist those directly affected by above-ground nuclear testing or work in uranium mines in the United States, but limited to individuals in certain counties in Utah, Colorado and Arizona. Known as “downwinders,” these Americans suffered from cancer and other various health issues as a result of radiation exposure.

In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences released a report calling on Congress to establish new scientific criteria for decisions about awarding federal compensation under RECA, arguing that states far from the original Nevada test site were not only exposed to radiation, but also may have been exposed to much higher levels than those in currently eligible areas. Udall first introduced legislation to update the RECA law as a member of the House of Representatives, building on the efforts of his late father, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, who began working on the original RECA bill more than three decades ago and assisted in securing positive improvements to RECA in 2000.