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February 27, 2024

Hawley urges Congress to extend benefits to victims of nuclear contamination

By ExchangeMonitor

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) this week imposed fellow lawmakers to renew a program to compensate victims of Manhattan Project-era radiation exposure. 

In a letter dated Feb. 26, Hawley asked his Senate colleagues to reauthorize the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which he said is “critical funding,” without which citizens exposed to radioactive materials during and after the last days of World War II “will be denied the compensation they need to treat diseases and cancers caused by the federal government’s nuclear waste.”

“It is our duty to reauthorize and update RECA this spring,” Hawley wrote in his letter. “I emphasize that this is not a welfare program. It is a matter of basic justice for those the government poisoned. We’ve developed the most advanced nuclear weapons on earth, but we cannot forget the working people of this country who were sacrificed for it. If we can send hundreds of billions of dollars in security assistance to foreign nations, we can spend a fraction of that on our own constituents who deserve help.”

Enacted in 1990, RECA is a compensation program for Americans who were unknowingly exposed to radiation during the Manhattan Project and later Cold War nuclear weapon testing programs. They include miners exposed to uranium, U.S. citizens living near nuclear material processing sites and people who came in contact with water contaminated by poorly stored radioactive waste, Hawley said.

Thousands more Americans were exposed to radiation downwind of hundreds of nuclear explosive tests conducted in Nevada during and after the Cold War. Between the end of World War II and the cessation of U.S. nuclear explosive testing in 1992, the military conducted 206 above-ground nuclear weapons tests, releasing harmful radioactive material into the air and blanketing parts of the United States. 

So far, RECA has compensated 40,000 Americans who developed cancers through a claims process run by the Department of Justice.

“In most cases, nobody was warned of this danger,” Hawley wrote. “In others, the government simply lied.”

A provision to extend the RECA benefits for an additional 19 years was stripped from the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act before that bill passed Congress and was signed into law. 

Hawley voted against the compromise NDAA for that reason. 

The NDAA amendment, written by Hawley and cosponsored by Sens. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), also would have expanded RECA access by including additional communities affected by nuclear tests, uranium mining and nuclear waste storage. RECA was most recently extended in 2022 for two years and is set to expire in June.

The amendment would also have extended benefits for the first time to communities affected by the test of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico; added residents of Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana and Guam to the program; and covered remaining areas of Nevada, Utah and Arizona and additional uranium workers.

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