More people who mined uranium for the U.S. government during the Cold War or lived near nuclear testing sites could qualify for federal compensation for illness under a bill introduced Monday by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
The measure contains amendments to the existing Radiation Exposure Compensation Act and would provide expanded restitution.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., is expected to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House this week.
According to Udall’s office, the amendments “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,” Udall said. “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.”
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.