Calling out people affected by Cold War testing or fallout: We want to hear your story.

Were you or a family member affected by radioactive fallout and nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project or Cold War?

By: and - December 11, 2023 10:32 am

Nuclear waste being stored in New Mexico (New Mexico Historical Society Collections).

For thousands of families who lived and worked near top-secret nuclear testing sites or uranium processing facilities in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the road to getting an official apology from the federal government — and financial help for medical bills related to cancers and other diseases — is murky.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was stripped from a congressional defense spending bill, though lawmakers have vowed to continue to champion it. The victims’ fund would have extended health care coverage and compensation to more uranium industry workers and so-called “downwinders” exposed to radiation in several new regions — Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Guam — and expanded coverage to remaining parts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

It would have also been particularly significant for the Navajo Nation, one of the most affected tribal areas from the world’s first atomic bomb testing in 1945.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that expanding the compensation program could cost $147.1 billion during 10 years, including $3.9 billion for St. Louis-area victims. After it was pulled from the Senate bill, the amendment’s co-sponsors — Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri; Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho — all vowed to fight and keep the compensation fund from expiring next year, and its potential expansion alive.

In late July, the U.S. Senate, with bipartisan support, voted narrowly to expand the program that compensates Americans who become ill because of exposure to radiation from the country’s development and testing of nuclear weapons and the buildup to the Cold War.

President Joe Biden signaled his support for the proposal and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited one of the contaminated sites during a visit to St. Louis. Senators attached the legislation to the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense bill that still needed approval by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Years of attempts by New Mexico legislators to extend and expand the program, which is set to run out of funding in 2024, had previously failed. But “Oppenheimer,” the new film about the development of the nuclear bomb, brought renewed attention to those impacted. And the latest proposed expansion comes in response to “Atomic Fallout,” an investigation by The Missouri Independent, MuckRock and The Associated Press, which found that, since the late 1940s, private companies and the federal government repeatedly downplayed the potential health risks of contamination in the St. Louis region. In internal memos, they wrote off health risks from exposed nuclear waste leaching into groundwater and neighborhood creeks as “slight,” “minimal” or “low-risk.”

The issue has been covered extensively by journalists over the years but the trove of previously-

It would have also been particularly significant for the Navajo Nation, one of the most affected tribal areas from the world’s first atomic bomb testing in 1945.

The proposed expansion — adding five additional states and the territory of Guam and significantly expanding regions of three other states — would have resulted in at least tens of thousands of additional claimants.

We want to hear from those who were impacted by fallout from nuclear development and testing, and who could be impacted by RECA expansion. Fill out the form below and a journalist may reach out to you to get more information.

 

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