Monday, April 19, 2010
Sen. Tom Udall Leads Bipartisan Group in Introducing Bill to Expand Relief for Americans Sickened by Radiation Exposure
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) today led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2010, which would provide expanded restitution for Americans sickened from working in uranium mines or living near atomic weapons tests.
Senator Udall was joined in introducing the legislation by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mark Udall (D-CO), James Risch (R-ID), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). Companion legislation will be introduced in the House this week by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM-3).
Among other things, the RECA Amendments of 2010 would build upon previous RECA legislation by further widening qualifications for compensation for radiation exposure; qualifying post 1971 uranium workers for compensation; equalizing compensation for all claimants to $150,000; expanding the downwind exposure area to include seven states; and funding an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.
“Uranium and weapons development of the Cold War era left a gruesome legacy in communities of mine workers and downwinders,” Tom Udall said in a statement released today. “For more than two decades, the United States has tried to compensate in some way for the resultant sickness and loss of life. Today we are taking the next step to close this sad chapter in history and to improve the reach of compassionate compensation to those Americans who have suffered, but have not qualified under RECA in its current form.”
“This bill extends the life of the original compensation initiative, expands the list of compensable diseases, and makes it easier for claimants to prove their illnesses are related to their exposure to uranium. Enacting this bill would ensure that more Americans made sick during the Cold War finally get the compensation they deserve,” said Bingaman, who worked on the original RECA law, as well as the 2000 law that made several improvements to the program. “I’m particularly pleased that it recognizes Trinity site down winders who have suffered much, but who have never been compensated.”
“The legacy of uranium mining still afflicts families and communities today, and it is critically important to ensure that these Americans are compensated for what they’ve endured. Senator Udall’s legislation recognizes the many individuals who have been impacted but unable to receive compensation for their suffering. These Americans have waited long enough,” Luján said.
Specifically, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2010 would:
- Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed from Dec. 31, 1971, until Dec. 31, 1990. These are individuals who began working in uranium mines and mills after 1971 when 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 half a year in a mill and half a year in a mine would be eligible for compensation. Currently, the Department of Justice makes some exceptions for this, but the policy is not codified in law.
- Make all claimants available 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.
Tom Udall's father, Stewart Udall, was a former Secretary of the Interior and a strong advocate of compensation for dead and dying Navajo uranium miners. Udall fought battles in court and in Congress, and his work was instrumental in getting the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act of 1990 passed. Stewart Udall passed away peacefully last month at age 90.