The blockbuster movie “Oppenheimer” put the spotlight on America’s efforts to build up its nuclear capabilities during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War era. Nuclear weapons testing, such as the Trinity test featured in the film, created radioactive fallout that drifted downwind across the United States and is linked to cancers and other illnesses. The mining and processing of uranium created health risks as well. Now, Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to expand compensation and benefits to more people who got sick from these exposures.
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) already provides compensation and benefits to some uranium workers and a limited number of individuals who lived downwind of the atomic testing sites, but new bipartisan legislation would expand the coverage to a wider geographic area. When it was first passed, RECA covered Downwinders from parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona, but the legislation now being considered would expand the coverage area to then-residents of New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Guam and previously excluded areas of Nevada, Utah and Arizona, as well as to Missouri where Manhattan Project waste was stored. It would also make coverage available to more uranium industry workers and extend the program for 19 more years.
The updated RECA legislation is part of the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, expected to be finalized and voted on by the end of the year. Efforts to extend RECA benefits to more Downwinders have been ongoing for years, but advocates are hopeful that, this time, they may finally gain support.
“This is the closest we’ve ever been to getting uranium workers who worked after 1971, and Downwinders, the compensation and benefits they deserve,” said Tim Lerew, chairman of the national advocacy organization, Cold War Patriots. Cold War Patriots is a division of Professional Case Management, a leading home healthcare provider for nuclear weapons and uranium workers. “We’ve been down this road before but have never gotten this far. Today, we have cause for optimism since we now have support from both sides of the aisle to do right by these dedicated uranium workers, as well as the Downwinders who were unknowingly exposed to radiation from nuclear testing.”
As part of its advocacy efforts to strengthen RECA benefits, Cold War Patriots has created a number of educational resources that can be accessed at coldwarpatriots.org/strengthening-reca. These materials provide more information about the program, including contact information for members of Congress.
“The nearly $900 billion Defense Bill, of which the updated RECA amendment would be a part, is a must-pass piece of legislation that will receive priority attention by Congress this fall,” said Lerew. “So it’s important that Congress be aware of the groundswell of support for the strengthened RECA legislation. This is the time to act. We need people to contact their Congressional leaders before Congress votes and let them know how strongly they support this life-changing legislation.”