Senate Passes Bill to Provide Cancer Screenings, Compensation for Victims of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex

Legislation to Protect, Improve the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Now Heads to House

Published Mar 7, 2024

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The Senate voted today 69-30 to advance legislation that would protect and strengthen the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) by extending the program for six years, giving victims more time to apply for aid, doubling compensation offered to communities downwind of nuclear weapons test sites, and including previously excluded communities harmed by radiation from above-ground nuclear weapons testing, uranium mining and nuclear waste storage.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), would offer compensation for the first time to communities impacted by the test of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico, as well as expand coverage to residents of Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee and Guam. It also would cover areas of Nevada, Utah and Arizona not currently covered by RECA and include additional uranium workers.

Radiation exposure increases the risk of illnesses including lung cancer and lung disease, leukemia, lymphomas and sixteen other recognized cancers. Many downwinders continue to struggle to access quality, timely healthcare. The legislation would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on downwinders’ unmet medical needs and issue recommendations on how to meet them.

“The Senate did itself, and America, proud today,” said Linda Chase, a downwinder in Nevada. “By passing legislation to protect and improve RECA, it made good on the government’s obligation to compensate those citizens who were exposed to radiation from the nuclear testing program. Thank you to the sponsors and others who have fought tirelessly for the passage of this important legislation. Now we look to the House to open their hearts, and their wallets, and send the bill to the President to be signed into law.”

 “We have waited decades for this victory,” said Mary Dickson, a downwinder from northern Utah. “Justice has been served. Now for the House. Our fight is for all those we’ve lost. They were in that gallery with us today.”

“I am at a loss for words. We have fought so hard, for so long,” said Laura Greenwood, the widow of a downwinder. Her husband, John Greenwood, grew up downwind of the Trinity Test site in New Mexico and died after a battle with multiple cancers. “RECA would have been a godsend for me and family when my husband got sick. I hope that RECA assistance can help other families be spared the stress and heartbreak we endured coping with a life-changing illness because of nuclear tests.”

“As a former resident of Missouri, who grew up in the Coldwater Creek area, I am so excited to see the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Bill (S. 3853) pass in the Senate today,” said Dr. Kim Visintine, a former Coldwater Creek resident. “My family was personally affected, as we lost our 6-year-old son to a rare radiation linked brain tumor. The passage of RECA will help so many in our community. As American citizens, we look forward to finally receiving justice for the damage caused by our own government, and continued support in the House. Thank you to all who have continued to support the many community members across our great nation who have been harmed.”

"For me personally, today was very symbolic. A vote like this, with additional support, on the anniversary of my father's death 11 years ago," said Tina Cordova, a seventh generation native New Mexican and downwinder. "Today I'm exceedingly grateful for the support that we've received and the US senators that saw to doing the right thing. I'm ever grateful for Senator Lujan and Senator Hawley and Senator Crapo for advancing this effort. We don't see a vote like this in the US Senate, ever. That should send a loud and clear message to the House that this is not a partisan issue and that the U.S. Senate knows what justice looks like."