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Members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium hold a demonstration at entrance to the Trinity Test Site.
Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium

In a significant victory for communities harmed by nuclear weapons testing and production, the Senate has voted to extend and expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).

From 1945 to 1962, the U.S. government conducted hundreds of above-ground nuclear tests. Surrounding communities were not warned. Those exposed to nuclear fallout are still dealing with the deadly consequences of these detonations today.

Congress passed RECA in 1990 to help these victims, but the program was not extended to all those who had been effected. Some impacted communities, known as “downwinders,” in highly irradiated places like Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Guam, and more have never been able to apply for this critical support. 

This program provides lifesaving benefits to Americans who have suffered directly from the growth of the U.S. nuclear weapons industry. For people with radiation-related cancers, this compensation can make the difference in getting the medical care they need. Expanding the law would be a significant step toward acknowledging and redressing the full scope of the harm committed.

A Bipartisan Effort to Expand RECA in the Senate

Before lawmakers left town for their August Congressional Recess, the Senate voted to advance a bipartisan amendment to extend lifesaving financial compensation and healthcare to more people who were exposed to elevated levels of radioactive fallout.

The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley (MO), and co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (ID) and Ben Ray Luján (NM).

In a statement, Sen. Luján said, “The federal government must do right by these communities, and today’s Senate vote is a step in the right direction toward justice … Today, the Senate took the most significant vote on RECA since the program was first adopted.”

Sustained Pressure is Needed to Ensure the RECA Amendment Becomes Law

This amendment is a crucial step toward rectifying the harm caused by our government, but its passage is not guaranteed.

The House and Senate have proposed different versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Soon lawmakers will meet to resolve these differences and finalize the legislation that will become law. Your voice is needed to ensure that the amendment to expand RECA is protected in the final bill.

Lawmakers have an opportunity to provide true recognition and essential compensation for downwinders.  Now is a crucial moment to demand justice for the victims of radiation exposure.

Allen Hester

Allen Hester

Legislative Representative, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending

Allen Hester leads FCNL’s Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending portfolio. He develops legislative strategies and lobbies Congress for reductions in Pentagon spending, strengthened arms control regimes, and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.