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Guest Column | RECA will likely come up for reauthorization next week

Guest Column | RECA will likely come up for reauthorization next week

Published June 4, 2024
Kingman Miner

The United States government conducted atmospheric weapons development tests as part of Cold War security from 1945 to 1962—an era when other nations also engaged in nuclear weapons testing and proliferation. These tests exposed thousands of Americans to cancer-causing ionized radiation from nuclear fallout.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was initially enacted by Congress in 1990 to provide partial restitution to individuals, known as downwinders, who were exposed to radiation as a result of the above-ground nuclear weapons testing. The act was intended to acknowledge and address the harm caused to these downwinders and their families and to provide some measure of financial support for their suffering.  RECA has awarded over $2.4 billion in benefits to more than 37,000 claimants since its inception in 1990. Compensation is paid from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund.

Unless reauthorized Congress, RECA is set to expire on June 10, 2024. However, the current RECA program is limited in its scope and leaves many affected communities without the support they need, including my constituents in Arizona.

Unfortunately, due a drafting error when writing the law in 1990, RECA failed to properly define the boundaries of impacted populations and many Americans that resided in counties in proximity to where the testing occurred were mistakenly excluded from the program for no logical or scientific reason, including people that reside in Mohave County, Arizona and Clark County, Nevada.  

As RECA will likely come up for reauthorization next week when the House of Representatives returns from the Memorial Day district work period, it is crucial for Congress to expand its scope to include all of Mohave County, Arizona. 

Mohave County is home to countless downwinders exposed to hazardous levels of radiation and toxic waste as our government tested over 200 nuclear weapons above ground, spreading radioactive fallout across the country, especially in the Western United States. Many of these victims have since developed serious health issues such as cancer and respiratory problems.

Since first being elected to Congress, I have worked tirelessly to fix the error that excluded downwinders from Mohave and Clark Counties from filing claims with the Department of Justice

There is broad, bi-partisan agreement that the United States must compensate all downwinders who have been stricken with cancer and other diseases because of reckless government actions.  Now would be the correct time to strengthen RECA and cover these communities in Arizona by expanding the program, already authorized by Congress, that has been life changing for so many people.

By expanding RECA, Congress can finally provide much-needed compensation and support to individuals who have suffered at the hands of the federal government. If Congress can waste more than $200 billion in taxpayer dollars to fight a proxy war in Ukraine, it certainly has a moral responsibility to stop dragging its feet and extend RECA coverage to all of Mohave and Clark Counties.