Utah Nuclear Weapons Victims Call for Utah’s Delegation to Support Expansion of RECA that Would Include Northern Utah Downwinders
Meisei Gonzalez / email@example.com / (801) 355-5055 EXT 2
Steve Erickson erickson.steve1comcast.net, 801-554-9029
Mary Dickson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 801-232-3471
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT —At a press conference today, November 6th, in front of the Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City, advocates of downwinders called on Utah’s Congressional delegation to support legislation that would expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to include all victims of nuclear weapons testing throughout the state of Utah and other western states.
A bipartisan bill to expand RECA was included as Amendment 1058 to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by the U.S. Senate. The amended NDAA now must be conferenced with the House and then go to the floors of both chambers.
The expansion would benefit many downwinders and uranium miners in Utah and other Western states who suffered cancers and other serious illnesses following exposure to radiation from nuclear weapons tests or while employed in the uranium industry but who have beenexcluded from RECA.
“RECA has never gone far enough,” says Salt Lake City downwinder and longtime advocate Mary Dickson. “Though so many Utahns would benefit from the expansion, the Utah delegation has yet to support the RECA expansion this session.”
Last session, Representatives Burgess Owens, Blake Moore, and Chris Stewart signed on as sponsors of the House bill, with Rep. Owens taking an important leading role. In this session, however, the three representatives and Rep. John Curtis are instead co-sponsoring a bill introduced by Rep. Harriett Hageman of Wyoming that would not add any additional downwinders and only some additional uranium miners.
“We are calling on our representatives to support the amendment to the NDAA through the conference process and see that justice for their constituents who have been harmed or lost loved ones is finally a reality,” says Dickson.
Steve Erickson of Downwinders Inc. says expanding affected areas to include much of the West and increasing the amount of compensation is long overdue in light of new evidence and has been supported by resolutions of the Utah State Legislature and the Grand and San Juan County Commissions. “It also was supported by the Western Governor’s Association in a March 10, 2022, letter to the U.S. House of Representatives – all of which signals the will of Utah citizens,” he says. “Too many continue to suffer, and too many have died waiting for the help they need.”
For decades, the science has shown that the current RECA program is woefully inadequate in compensating all those damaged by the government’s nuclear testing program, according to Dr. Jon Callahan, who has worked as a laboratory chemist and cancer science researcher in Utah for over 30 years.
“The $50,000 for downwinders has never been adequate,” he says. “New treatments for cancer are now many times more expensive and often far more complicated. For example, the newly approved cell treatments for leukemia are estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1,000,000. The technologies have advanced greatly, but this also comes at a price.”
The RECA amendment to the NDAA, introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, would extend RECA by 19 years and add all of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, and the U.S. Territory of Guam for compensation eligibility. This includes downwinders of the Trinity Test, depicted in “Oppenheimer,” whom have never been included although they were the first victims of an atomic weapons test. The amendment also would include uranium industry workers after 1971 and Missourians in the St. Louis area who have suffered from exposure to radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project.
While the amendment passed with strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, 61-37, neither Utah senator voted in favor of it.
“Despite the absence of our delegation among current supporters of the RECA expansion, we are hopeful,” says Dickson, “We have never come this close, yet we feel a keen sense of urgency. Without Congressional action, the current RECA program expires at the end of June, leaving too many without a much-needed lifeline.”
Sen. Hawley has been a passionate advocate of the expansion. “If the government is going to expose its citizens to radioactive materials … for decades, the government ought to pay the bills for the men and women who have gotten sick because of it,” he said at a September press conference outside the U.S. Capitol with fellow sponsors Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico), Rep. Theresa Leger Fernandez (R-New Mexico), and Rep. James Moylan (R-Guam). Dickson was one of the speakers at that press conference.
“The future of the RECA amendment in the NDAA is now up to the House,” she says. “Timing remains up in the air with congressional action pushed back by the chaos there. It would be a terrible shame if political fights stopped Congress from doing the right thing. In the meantime, we call on our delegation to help Utahns and others who have paid the price of America’s nuclear investment finally achieve the justice we deserve. Our communities are still suffering, and people continue to die as we wait.”
About HEAL Utah
The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) has been an environmental advocacy organization, watchdog, and strategic influencer in Utah since 1999. By empowering grassroots advocates, using science-based solutions, and developing common-sense policy, HEAL has a track record of tackling some of the biggest threats to Utah’s environment and public health — and succeeding. The organization focuses on clean air, energy and climate, and radioactive waste. HEAL uses well-researched legislative, regulatory, and individual responsibility approaches to create tangible change, and then utilizes grassroots action to make it happen.