Extending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act another two years was the right thing to do. Continuing to neglect New Mexicans who unwittingly suffered nuclear fallout is wrong and can not be allowed to stand.
Congress this month extended RECA to May 2024. The 1990 bipartisan act would have expired in July; it provides money for people who develop cancer or other diseases after exposure to atomic weapons testing or contact with uranium and has paid out $2.5 billion to over 39,000 claimants.
But the act has failed to recognize radioactive fallout doesn’t stop at state lines. While numerous downwind counties were designated in Arizona, Nevada and Utah, the act has never covered N.M. downwinders who suffered nuclear fallout from the Trinity Site in July 1945 or the hundreds of above-ground nuclear tests between 1945 and 1992.
As Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., wrote in a recent column for CNN, harmful radioactive material blanketed parts of New Mexico, too. And while uranium workers employed between Jan. 1, 1942, and Dec. 31, 1971, are eligible for compensation, workers employed after 1971 are ineligible.
Luján has tried with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to expand the scope of RECA to New Mexicans living downwind of nuclear weapons tests and those who worked in uranium mines after 1971. The rest of the state’s congressional delegation should join forces behind this bipartisan effort to finally make things right for the affected New Mexicans.
N.M. fallout victims were not warned ahead of the atomic blasts and were led to believe there was little or no danger. It’s a wrong of our federal government that must be corrected. And hundreds of abandoned uranium mines as well as radioactive waste on the Navajo Nation must be cleaned up.
Thirty-two years after RECA, Congress needs to follow Luján’s lead and step up. RECA should be expanded and extended to include New Mexican downwinders and uranium workers of the last 50 years and made more permanent.
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.