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Bill would expand radiation compensation to NM residents

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján introduced legislation Tuesday that would expand compensation for individuals exposed to radiation from the Trinity Site atomic blast in 1945 and for those exposed while working in or living near uranium mines in New Mexico.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019 provides health and monetary compensations for individuals who were exposed to high levels of radiation that caused sickness, cancer and deaths in New Mexico and across the country, the congressman told the Journal. RECA was first passed in 1990 to compensate Americans who were exposed to nuclear testing, but did not include New Mexico.

The legislation would expand the original act and has more than 35 co-sponsors, including Luján’s fellow Democratic New Mexico colleagues, Reps. Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small.

“I know how important this legislation is for New Mexico families that have been affected,” Luján said. “This legislation will extend compensation for those individuals who played a role in our national security and help make those individuals whole.”

The congressman said workers and communities in New Mexico were exposed to radiation from open uranium pits during the Cold War and from a radiation spill that resulted from a berm break in the Navajo Nation that flooded waterways and arroyos.

“And the people who lived near the Trinity test were not given any notice that an atomic bomb was about to be tested,” Luján said of the first atomic bomb blast on July 16, 1945, on what is now White Sands Missile Range in east Socorro County.

“New Mexicans are still sick and dying from radiation exposure,” he said.

Should the legislation pass, residents in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Guam, which have been shown to be impacted by downwind contamination, would be eligible for compensation, Luján said.

It would also extend compensation to 2045. The current act expires in two years.

That would leave “thousands without the ability to pay for their medical care for illnesses directly linked to the exposure,” he said.

It would also extend to Dec. 31, 1990, the period during which an individual employed in a uranium mine or a uranium mill is eligible to receive compensation for a disease claim due to radiation exposure.

The legislation would also include an apology to those who have been exposed to radiation from nuclear tests in the mainland U.S., Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Luján said the idea for the apology came from members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, which has been trying for years to get those affected by the Trinity test included in RECA.

“We’ve been ignored for 74 years,” consortium co-founder Tina Cordova said. She said she was glad it has been made a legislative priority.

Haaland said the new legislation “would provide justice for the downwinders and miners who have been overlooked but still suffer from those impacts.”

“We can’t renege on our responsibility to care for those our government unintentionally harms,” Torres Small added.

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