By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – A bipartisan group of lawmakers renews efforts to expand a U.S. compensation program for people who have been exposed to radiation as a result of wartime uranium mining and nuclear testing cold.
Defenders have been trying for years to raise awareness of the lingering effects of nuclear fallout around the Trinity site in southern New Mexico, where the U.S. military detonated the first atomic bomb, and on the Navajo nation, where more than 30 million tonnes of uranium ore have been mined for decades to support US nuclear activities.
Under legislation introduced on Wednesday by sensational Americans Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, and Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, other sites in the American West would be added to the list of affected locations by fallout and radiation exposure. Eligibility would also be expanded to include certain workers in the industry after 1971, such as miners.
The law would also increase the amount of compensation a person can receive to $ 150,000 and cover other forms of cancer.
A multibillion-dollar defense spending program approved last year included an apology to New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and other states affected by radiation from nuclear tests, but no action was taken. was taken regarding legislation to modify and expand the compensation program.
Lawyers, including those who testified before Congress earlier this year, say it’s time to do so, especially as existing provisions are set to expire next July. The legislation would extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, for an additional 19 years.
Tina Cordova, cancer survivor and co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, said she has been working on the legislation for months with other residents of radiation-affected places, from indigenous communities in New Mexico to Gaum.
“We came up with language to make sure the bill goes far enough to help as many people as possible,” she said. “This is a watershed period for all post-71 uranium workers who were excluded from the original RECA bill. “
While efforts to expand the program have lasted for years, advocates say there is broader interest now because more people would risk losing access to compensation funds if the law expires. They also recognize that some members of Congress might argue that there is not enough money to fund the proposal.
“We will no longer be satisfied with this answer. Imagine the insult added to our injury from such a statement, ”Cordova said. “There is always money when there is political will. This is an issue of social, environmental and restorative justice that we as a nation can no longer look away from. “
On the Navajo Nation, uranium mining has left a legacy of death, disease and environmental contamination. This includes the largest radioactive material spill in the United States, when 94 million gallons of radioactive tailings and sewage was spewed out on tribal lands in the Church Rock area of western New Mexico, in 1979. This happened just three months after the partial meltdown of a nuclear power plant. Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania, which attracted much more attention at the time.
While hundreds of abandoned uranium mines and radioactive waste still need to be cleaned up, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said residents of the nation’s largest indigenous reservation have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation for years and have suffered a wide range of illnesses as a result, some of which die prematurely.
Nez called the expansion of the program and the expansion of the trust fund a question of justice.
“We look forward to advocating for the advancement of this bill and encouraging consideration of additional provisions that would advance the goals of justice and equity represented by this bill,” he said. he declares.
United States Democratic Representative Teresa Leger Fernández of New Mexico is helping lead the push in the House. Co-sponsoring House Republicans include Representatives Yvette Herrell of New Mexico and Burgess Owens of Utah.
For Senator Luján, the fight for compensation began in 2010 when he was a member of Congress.
“While there can never be a price tag for the health or life of a loved one, Congress has the opportunity to do good to all who have sacrificed themselves in the service of our national security by strengthening RECA “he said in a statement.
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