ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s three senatorial candidates are promising to help descendants of families who lived through the Trinity Test — a change that descendants say comes after they’ve worked to get their stories out.
Democratic U.S. Senate Martin Heinrich, his Republican challenger Mick Rich and Libertarian Gary Johnson all say they would advocate for descendants to be included in a federal law that compensated families near nuclear test sites.
The move came after descendants got promises from Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, who are both running for New Mexico governor, to promise to push for changes in federal law to allow New Mexico residents to seek compensation for health injuries related to nuclear test sites. The promises in both races also show how advocates for descendants have convinced members of both parties to endorse changes to federal law.
Current federal law does not include New Mexico residents and descendants who live near nuclear test sites.
Heinrich, who is seeking his second term, is co-sponsoring a bill that would amend the law.
“New Mexico has made invaluable contributions to our nation’s nuclear history, but those contributions did not come without a cost,” Heinrich said in a statement. “Families who lived in and near the Tularosa Basin at the time of the Trinity Test, uranium mill workers, and uranium miners continue to cope with devastating health effects.”
Rich also said he supports expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act and full funding for the cleanup of nuclear waste in New Mexico.
“New Mexico played a key role in ending World War II and providing America’s nuclear deterrence,” said Rich, who mother worked on the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “That role created a nuclear waste legacy that hasn’t fully been resolved. New Mexico should receive the same priority as other states.”
A spokesman for Johnson said the former New Mexico governor will support legislation to amend RECA to include the Tularosa Basin in the areas eligible to file claims.
Descendants have said the World War II-era Trinity Test caused generations of southern New Mexico families to suffer from rare cancer and economic hardship.
Residents did not learn that the test involved an atomic weapon until the U.S. dropped bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended.
Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, said she was encouraged by the support from all the senate candidates to help New Mexico descendants affected by the Trinity Test.
“This is the testament to the hard worked by the Tularosa Basin Downwinders to educated people on what happened,” she said.
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras