It seems these days there aren’t a lot of issues that unite political leaders from the left and right. Amending and extending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act is one of them.
Since it was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in October of 1999, the act has never covered New Mexicans who unwittingly suffered nuclear fallout from the Trinity Site in July 1945. While there was only one atomic bomb test in New Mexico, the fallout victims were not warned ahead of time and were later led to believe there was little or no danger.
Later, in the 1950s, hundreds of nuclear tests were conducted above ground north of Las Vegas, Nevada — so much so that the small military town became known as Atomic City.
Numerous downwind counties were designated in Arizona, Nevada and Utah in the 1999 legislation, but not New Mexico. New Mexico is, however, among 11 states where uranium workers employed between Jan. 1, 1942, and Dec. 31, 1971, are eligible for compensation from RECA.
But RECA expires July 10.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers that includes U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-Santa Fe, and Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, are backing legislation that would expand the list of places affected by fallout and radiation exposure to include New Mexico Downwinders and uranium workers after 1971. Hundreds of abandoned uranium mines and radioactive waste on the Navajo Nation still need to be cleaned up. The legislation also would increase the amount of compensation someone can receive to $150,000 and provide coverage for additional forms of cancer through RECA for another 19 years.
Congress apologized to New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and other states affected by radiation from nuclear testing in a multibillion-dollar defense spending package approved in 2020, but no action was taken to broaden RECA. That apology needs to be formalized with an extension and expansion of RECA that includes New Mexican Downwinders and uranium miners after 1971.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.