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Udall Introduces Radiation Exposure Bill

Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan – with support from some Republican senators – have introduced a bill that would provide expanded restitution for Americans who grew ill from working in uranium mines or living downwind of atomic weapons tests.

 

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act would expand the qualification to receive compensation, especially those sickened after 1971. It would also equalize compensation for all claimants to $150,000, expand the downwind exposure area to include seven states; and pay for an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of
uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.

 

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Mark Udall, D-Colo., and James Risch, R-Idaho and Michael Bennett, D-Colo., are co-sponsors. Udall introduced nearly identical legislation in the last Congress but it did not reach President Obama’s desk.

 

“As the U.S. government built up its Cold War nuclear arsenal during the mid-20th
century, many Americans paid the price with their health – and all the
while, the government was slow to implement federal protections,” Tom Udall
said. “With this legislation, we honor a generation of hardworking
Americans who sacrificed their lives and health by working or living
near the uranium mines. We are taking the next step to close this sad
chapter in our history by expanding RECA to include all who are
justified in receiving radiation exposure compensation.”

 

According to a Udall press release, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2011 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 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.

 

  • 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. After being
elected to the Senate in 2008, Udall reintroduced the bill with the same
bipartisan group of senators.

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