Don’t give up on our uranium workers in New Mexico »Albuquerque Journal


A warning sign on the former site of the Kerr-McGee uranium mill is displayed on open land in the foreground with Mount Taylor in the background near Grants, NM (Susan Montoya Bryan / Associated Press)

This time, next July, we’re going to lose a key federal program, and you barely hear about it. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) will expire on July 11, 2022. We need our elected representatives in Congress to scale up and expand this program before it runs out.

Congress first adopted RECA in 1990. The idea was to help cover the health costs of many communities exposed to nuclear radiation through US nuclear weapons programs. These programs began in the 1940s, most notably here in New Mexico with the first nuclear test in 1945. Surface nuclear testing would continue until 1962, and to support the thousands of new nuclear weapons being built, a extensive uranium mining and processing program has started. in our state and elsewhere.

RECA pays a one-time benefit to people who likely developed cancer or other specified illnesses after exposure to radiation from this nuclear project. This exposure could come from the mining, crushing or transport of uranium, or radioactive fallout from atomic weapons testing in parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

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The program was expanded by law in 2000. It now provides compensation to certain additional groups of uranium workers and civilians who have also been exposed to radiation. But not everyone. Uranium workers after 1971 were not included.

Most of the uranium mining production occurred after 1971, but most uranium workers were excluded from RECA. There has been no improvement in safety for minors.

Recent research conducted at the Health Sciences Center at the University of New Mexico suggests that there are no differences in exposure and disease between pre-1971 uranium workers and those in after 71. All uranium workers should be compensated for their illnesses due to radiation exposure.

We need congressional representatives from New Mexico and the Senses. (Ben Ray) Luján and (Martin) Heinrich to end this arbitrary distinction and expand the program so that everyone can benefit. Basically it looks like:

• Extension of RECA for a further 23 years, until 2045;

• Increase compensation for all claimants to $ 150,000;

• Extension of eligibility to all active uranium workers from 1972 to 1990;

• Expand the geographic eligibility for compensation for exposure to atmospheric atomic tests to cover all of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and the United States. Utah;

• Expand geographic eligibility to cover those present in Guam during atmospheric testing in the Pacific and make eligible for compensation veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll.

We cannot go back to what happened. But we can prevent this from happening again and take care of those most affected. If we don’t, we dishonor their sacrifices and forsake them.

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