Bill could be the last chance to help the Utah Downwinds
Many people suffering from diseases caused by nuclear tests and uranium mines still need the nation’s help.
A bipartite agreement is difficult to find these days. But bills introduced in the Senate and House could make a huge difference to those of us who survived nuclear tests and suffered fatal health effects for years.
Legislation introduced by the senses Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and Ben Lujan, D-New Mexico, and Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-New Mexico – who have defended Leeward communities and nuclear test survivors – would expand and Would expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which provides compensation for people who have likely developed cancer and other illnesses as a result of exposure to radioactive fallout from uranium testing or mining.
Without Congressional action, RECA will expire in less than a year, even though people still get sick, suffer from health complications, their cancers come back and face huge medical bills.
With bipartisan support in the House and Senate, the legislation would extend the 19-year compensation period, cover Downwinders throughout Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana , Colorado and Guam and would increase compensation from $ 50,000 to $ 150,000. This extension and expansion would help ensure that those sickened by nuclear testing and uranium mining have ample time to receive compensation – a process that can take years.
RECA, largely for political reasons, has always been extremely limited in scope compared to the actual number of civilians likely to be affected by nuclear testing. It compensates Downwinders who live in rural counties of Utah, Nevada and Arizona, although studies since its initial enactment show that the fallout has far exceeded the 22 counties currently covered, affecting more than countless people in the western states. Northern Utah, including Salt Lake City, Provo and, are not covered by RECA, although those areas were also hit hard by the fallout and thousands of people died or became ill.
I like to remind people of how smoke from the California fires blanketed Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and other states. Winds in the United States are blowing west, sending smoke that darkens our skies. The same winds carried radioactive fallout however, unlike smoke, this invisible poison entered our bodies without our even knowing it.
Utah also has a long history of uranium mining, including on Navajo Nation lands. While RECA covers some uranium workers, it has always excluded those who worked in the industry after 1971. These bills would deal with that.
I applaud the work of Crapo, Lujan and Fernandez, who recognize how much their own constituents as well as residents of neighboring states have suffered. As Downwinds, we have waited years for justice to be done. For many, it is already too late. Too many people have died, and too many of us have buried and mourned the dead. There is an urgent need for Congress to do the right thing and pass these bills so that justice can be served to American citizens who have been harmed by nuclear testing and uranium mining.
The Utah Downwinders greatly appreciate Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, who co-sponsored the House Bill – HR 5338. He is the only member of the Utah Congressional delegation to have signed the one or the other bill. We plan to meet with the rest of our delegation to seek their support and co-sponsorship on behalf of the many Downwinds in Utah.
This is perhaps one of the few issues on which both parties can agree. If you think our nation should take care of those injured by nuclear testing, I urge you to contact your representative and Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee to ask them to support the Senate version of the bill – S2798.
This may be our last chance.
Writer and Downwinder from Salt Lake City Mary dickson, Salt Lake City, is a longtime Downwinders advocate who has written and spoken extensively on the human toll of nuclear testing.