WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Rep. Burgess Owens (UT-04) led a bipartisan letter to Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy advocating for the reauthorization of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), a benefit program for those who suffered from cancers and other diseases related to fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons testing during the 1950s and 1960s. Without Congressional action, RECA will expire in July 2022.
“For almost 50 years, the U.S. conducted over 200 above-ground nuclear weapons tests, blanketing communities in Utah and many western states with harmful radioactive material,” said Rep. Owens. “On behalf of Downwinders in Utah’s Fourth District, I’m proud to work with my colleagues to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act and right the wrongs that destroyed the lives of countless innocent Americans. Legislation championed in 1990 by Senator Orrin Hatch was an important step in correcting the problem caused by the federal government, but this compensation ends this year, and too many Utahns will be left behind.”
The full letter is available below.
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy:
We write today to urge you to extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) program in the upcoming spending package. The important program lapses in July 2022.
In 1945, the United States exploded the first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site in New Mexico. Over the next 48 years, the U.S. conducted more than 200 above-ground nuclear tests, releasing harmful radioactive material into the air in many parts of the United States, including New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, and Guam. These tests exposed nearby communities to radiation – those communities are now known as the downwinders. It also exposed those mining and working in the uranium industry to radiation. As a result of the exposure, tens of thousands contracted cancers and other serious diseases.
In 1990, Congress passed RECA on a bipartisan basis to provide a one-time payment to many of those harmed. The program provides benefits to qualified persons who participated in onsite tests of an atomic weapon; downwinders in specified areas near the Nevada Test Site, but not other test sites; and uranium miners, millers, and ore transporters who worked in the industry between 1942 and 1971.
Many Americans are still falling sick and dying due to radiation exposure. The United States should not walk away from its commitment to compensate these people and we must extend RECA. It is also important to note that we are working on a bipartisan basis to expand and improve RECA through the bipartisan H.R. 5338, the RECA Amendments of 2021. Our bill will make sure that uranium miners and downwinders who were previously left out can receive the compensation and support they deserve. We look forward to continuing to engage with you on that legislation as well.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue.