This past July, the effort to extend life-saving compensation for victims of U.S. nuclear weapons testing received a vote on the Senate floor for the first time in 13 years. Sixty-one senators approved a bipartisan amendment by Sen. Josh Hawley (MO) to extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) as part of the annual, must-pass military policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
While FCNL celebrated the Senate passage of the RECA expansion amendment, our work is far from over. As lawmakers from both sides of the aisle parse out disagreements between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA, more advocacy is needed to ensure that the final bill includes the provision to expand RECA.
It is more important than ever to support impacted communities who have sounded the alarm for decades.
As the clock ticks on toward RECA’s May 2024 expiration, several groups representing victims of radioactive contamination across the country are highlighting the egregious harms wrought by the nuclear weapons industry and pressing Congress to act.
Nearly 200 nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1962 exposed communities known as “downwinders” to dangerous levels of radiation in New Mexico, Missouri, Idaho, Guam, Colorado, and Montana. Despite living “down wind” from the test sites, these communities were all excluded from receiving the lifesaving financial and medical support offered by the first iteration of RECA. In addition to downwinders, the Senate NDAA amendment would also expand compensation to cover the families of uranium miners who unknowingly tracked radioactive materials into their homes.
As a fuller picture emerges of the reach of the fallout from the “Trinity Test”—the first-ever atomic weapon detonation that occurred in a New Mexico desert— it is more important than ever to support impacted communities who have sounded the alarm for decades.
A Bipartisan Opportunity for Justice and Healing
The fallout of the Trinity Test upended many lives with radiation-induced illnesses, cancer, lifelong health complications, and the financial devastation that can follow such health crises.
At a Sept. 20 press conference, Dawn Chapman, co-founder of Just Moms St. Louis, emphasized that long-ignored victims of radioactive contamination have felt betrayed and disempowered by the federal government’s inaction. “No more lies, and no more separation,” she said.
“If the government is going to expose its own citizens to radioactive material … the government ought to pay the bills of the men and women who have gotten sick because of it.”
But this time, after years of feeling isolated and unheard, Chapman stood alongside a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are committed to helping victims who have been treated like Cold War collateral damage.
“If the government is going to expose its own citizens to radioactive material … the government ought to pay the bills of the men and women who have gotten sick because of it,” Sen. Hawley said. “We’re not here today to ask for a handout.”
“It surprised a lot of folks that a Democrat from New Mexico would work with a Republican colleague out of Missouri,” Sen. Ben Ray Luján (NM) said. “But it’s one of those examples of how this place can work.”
Quakers are committed to seeking a world free of war and the threat of war, including addressing the suffering caused by past injustices. At a time of ever-increasing polarization, we have a bipartisan opportunity to demonstrate our resolve to achieve justice for people directly harmed by U.S. nuclear weapons programs.