Sen. Tom Udall
U.S. SENATE News:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., led a bipartisan group of senators in renewing their efforts to expand restitution for Americans sickened from working in uranium mines or living downwind of atomic weapons tests.
April 19 was the 24-year anniversary of the introduction of the original Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in the U.S. Senate.
Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), James Risch (R-Idaho) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) joined Udall in reintroducing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2013. Companion legislation was concurrently introduced in the House by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM-3.)
Among other things, the RECA Amendments of 2013 would build upon previous RECA legislation by qualifying post 1971 uranium workers for compensation; equalizing compensation for all claimants to $150,000; expanding the downwind exposure area to include seven states downwind of the Nevada and Trinity Test Sites; and funding an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.
“We have seen the heartbreaking effects of those who sacrificed their health and lives by working or living near uranium mines and nuclear test sites in the mid-20th century,” Udall said. “Many Americans unwittingly paid the price for our national security, and unfortunately, some victims fell through the cracks in the original legislation. Expanding RECA will provide these individuals with recognition so that they can receive the much needed compensation they deserve.”
“Throughout history, New Mexico has made major contributions to our country’s national security and energy needs, including communities across the state that were central to the mining and processing of uranium,” Heinrich said. “But we’ve neglected our duty to the workers and miners and those living near uranium mines and nuclear test sites whose health have been gravely impacted, and it’s critical that they be compensated for their suffering.”
“Communities and individuals that have been adversely affected by our nation’s nuclear weapons programs must be justly and sufficiently compensated by the federal government,” Crapo said. “Passage of this bipartisan legislation is crucial in ensuring Idahoans get the care they need.”
“We must never forget the heavy price that thousands of Americans paid during the Cold War-era nuclear arms race,” Mark Udall said. “During that time, many Coloradans and other Americans were exposed to radiation in uranium mines and nuclear-weapons facilities, and they have spent decades struggling with an array of health problems, including cancer. This bill will ensure those Coloradans and other Americans get the help they need and deserve.”
“This bill once again seeks a fair resolution for those people impacted by the nuclear testing program, just as others in surrounding states have been provided. Idahoans deserve the same care and compensation because of the identical health effects,” Risch said.
“During the Cold War, thousands of Coloradans served our country by working to build the nation’s nuclear arsenal. We now know that through no fault of their own, they were not properly protected from harmful radiation exposure,” Bennet said. “We’re working in a bipartisan way on behalf of those workers, their families and others who have suffered over many years. Addressing this wrong is the right and just thing to do.”
“Too many people who worked at uranium mining sites during the Cold War have suffered for too long due to exposure to radiation,” Luján said. “In addition, their families and their communities have paid the price as the legacy of uranium mining continues to be felt in the southwest. It is long overdue that we recognize the sacrifices and contributions of these individuals and the heavy toll that radiation exposure has taken on their health and well-being.”
Specifically, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2013 would:
Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed after Dec. 31, 1971. These are individuals who began working in uranium mines and mills after the U.S. stopped purchasing uranium, but failed to implement and enforce adequate uranium mining safety standards. Many of these workers have the same illnesses as pre-1971 workers who currently qualify for RECA compensation.
Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees, which currently only includes miners, millers and ore transporters.
Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases for employees of mines and mills. Currently, millers and transporters are covered for kidney disease, but miners are not.
Allow claimants to combine work histories to meet the requirement of the legislation. For example, individuals who worked for a short time in a mill and for a short time in a mine would be able to add those period of time up to meet the work history eligibility requirements for compensation. Currently, the Department of Justice makes some exceptions for this, but the policy is not codified in law.
Make all claimants eligible for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000, regardless of whether they are millers, miners, ore transporters, onsite employees, or downwinders.
Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits. Currently, only miners, millers and ore transporters can claim medical benefits through the medical expense compensation program.
Recognize radiation exposure from the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, as well as tests in the Pacific Ocean.
Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the Trinity Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests.
Allow the use of affidavits to substantiate employment history, presence in affected area, and work at a test site. Current legislation only allows miners to use affidavits.
Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim, as was mandated in the original 1990 RECA legislation.
Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers. The funds would be allocated to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to award grants to universities and non-profits to carry out the research.
Allow in the miners, millers, core drillers, and ore transporters to file a Special Exposure Cohort petition within the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA.) Other DOE workers are currently allowed to file such petitions for compensation when claims are denied and there is not enough information for NIOSH to do dose reconstruction to determine the impacts of exposure.
Tom Udall first introduced legislation to update the RECA law as a member of the House of Representatives. His efforts built upon those 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.
After being elected to the Senate, Udall introduced a new RECA amendments bill with retired Sen. Bingaman and a bipartisan group of senators from Idaho and Colorado.