By Michael Zogg
The United States Congress signaled its support for continuing compensation to people who were affected by nuclear testing and uranium mining last week, but the push to formally extend the life of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act beyond July 2022 and expand its boundaries to include affected residents in Mohave County are still ongoing.
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema successfully included a Sense of Congress – a non-binding resolution – stating that people affected by nuclear testing and uranium mining should continue to be fairly compensated for their exposure in the annual defense bill. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 was passed with broad bipartisan support on Dec. 15. Sinema’s aid Hannah Hurley said the inclusion of the Sense of Congress in the act shows broad support for continuing RECA.
RECA is intended to provide federal restitution to people who lived and worked downwind of nuclear testing facilities – who have shown a higher tendency to develop certain cancers including leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and more. In 1951 nuclear weapons testing was conducted at the Nevada Proving Grounds which lays about 110 miles from Mohave County’s border. But as the law currently stands, only Mohave County residents who lived north of the Colorado River are eligible to apply for compensation through RECA. In the 1950s, most of Mohave County’s population resided in the Kingman area.
Other counties in Arizona that are eligible include Coconino, Navajo, Apache, Yavapai, and Gila counties.
The Downwinders Parity Act of 2021, would extend RECA coverage to all of Mohave County. It would also extend RECA beyond the current termination date in the summer of 2022. The bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) and Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Phoenix) and a companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sinema and fellow Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly.
The federal efforts to extend RECA and to include all of Mohave County have received significant support locally from the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, the Tri-City Council, and the City of Kingman.
Although a version of the legislation has been introduced in each Congress since 2010 – originally by Sen. John McCain and Rep. Trent Franks – the bill had not earned a committee hearing or vote in either the house or the senate until this year when it was passed with bipartisan support by the House Judiciary Committee in November.
Arizona’s delegation in the Senate say expanding RECA remains a high priority for them as well.
“No dollar amount can ever undo the harm caused to Arizona families stemming from the impacts of uranium mining and radiation exposure, but I will continue working with Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation that expands and extends the compensation program for victims of nuclear testing, including those in Mohave County,” Kelly said.
Under RECA, uranium miners, millers and ore transporters may be eligible for one-time compensation of $100,000. Onsite participants at atmospheric nuclear weapons tests may be eligible for one-time compensation up to $75,000, and individuals who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site may be eligible for a lump sum payment of $50,000.
“Arizonans from Mohave County to Apache County who were harmed by radiation exposure from nuclear weapons testing and uranium mining deserve fair and appropriate compensation for their safety, security, and health,” Sinema said.