Commentary: WASHINGTON – In a major step forward in the fight for justice for victims of radiation exposure, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) testified today in a key Senate hearing on the need to enact his legislation to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) and provide compensation to all New Mexicans, Tribal members, and families throughout the country affected by exposure to radiation during the Cold War.
The hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee was held eight years after Udall originally requested a hearing on legislation expanding RECA to cover victims of the government’s nuclear testing, including those living downwind of the Trinity test site in New Mexico's Tularosa Basin and post-1971 uranium workers in Northwestern New Mexico. Udall successfully advocated for representatives of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium and Navajo Nation – home to many of the post-1971 miners – to offer testimony for the committee during the hearing.
The hearing was attended by a significant number of New Mexicans, Tribal members, and other Westerners who are either victims of radiation exposure or have family members who were exposed during the Cold War. Udall also asked that the committee allow for written testimony to be submitted for the record for those who were unable to directly participate in the hearing, and the committee granted that request with a deadline of July 5th, 2018.
“As we are witnessing injustice at the border and remembering the shame of Japanese internment, I am also reminded of the grave injustice done to the Cold War victims of radiation,” Udall said during today’s hearing. “They came to me and my father in 1977, and we never gave up on their cause. I respectfully ask the committee to advance S. 197 -- introduced by Senator Crapo and myself, and others. This bill would close the gaps in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to make sure that those downwinders and miners and millers who were unknowingly exposed to radiation -- but who are not now eligible under the [Radiation Exposure Compensation] Act -- are fairly compensated.”
“While we can’t undo the years of suffering, we must do everything we can now to make sure the many unwilling Cold War victims and their families are compensated,” Udall continued. “I hope today’s hearing represents a key step in closing this sad chapter in our nation’s history.”
Udall has fought for many years to expand RECA to cover all victims of radiation exposure, including the Tularosa downwinders and the post-1971 miners and millers who were left out of the initial RECA legislation. Udall, along with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and others, has introduced bipartisan legislation, S. 197, to amend RECA to expand compensation for victims of radiation exposure in New Mexico as well as several Western states and Guam. Udall’s bill builds on the efforts of Udall's late father, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, who represented downwinders in the courts for many years and laid the groundwork for the original RECA legislation. Udall first introduced legislation to update the RECA law as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has sponsored Senate legislation since 2010.
In last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Udall and Heinrich successfully fought to include an amendment to express that it is the Sense of Congress that all victims of radiation exposure should be compensated.