SANTA FE – All members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation expressed outrage with the U.S. House leadership’s move to block compensation for people sickened by exposure to radiation during nuclear weapons testing and the mining of uranium during the Cold War.
Originally, the bill expanded eligibility for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, offering up tens of thousands of dollars in compensation to residents of New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Guam and Missouri – as well as those in some parts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah – who suffered the effects of nuclear testing or uranium mines and who are not covered under the current program.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the compensation was included in a massive defense spending bill that won Senate approval in July. But the GOP-controlled House removed those provisions from the act Wednesday, rendering New Mexicans – including those stricken with ailments from the radioactive fallout of the first atomic bomb – still ineligible for federal help unless it is reattached to the final bill.
“Generations of New Mexicans and their families have gotten sick and died from the radiation exposure and the lasting impacts of the Trinity Test,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján, referring to the first-ever atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert in 1945. “For New Mexico to have been ground zero for the first nuclear weapon – and left out of the original RECA program – is an injustice.”
Luján, a Democrat, has introduced radiation exposure compensation bills in every Congress since he was first elected to the U.S. House in 2008.
The hit summer film “Oppenheimer” about the top-secret Manhattan Project and the dawn of the nuclear age during World War II has brought new attention to decadeslong efforts to extend compensation for families who were exposed to fallout and still grapple with related illness.
Advocates also have been trying for years to bring awareness to the lingering effects of radiation exposure on the Navajo Nation, where millions of tons of uranium ore were extracted over decades to support U.S. nuclear activities.