Bill would expand radiation payments

Those who worked with uranium after 1971 would be eligible for compensation

Miners and others who dug, hauled and milled uranium after 1971 would be eligible for compassionate payments for terminal illnesses under a bill introduced in Congress.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act amendments of 2011 would expand the number of people eligible for $150,000 payments, for which they must suffer radiation-related terminal ailments.

“As the U.S. government built up its Cold War nuclear arsenal during the mid-20th century, many Americans paid the price with their health, and all the while the government was slow to implement federal protections,” U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a news release announcing the bill.

Udall’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Colorado’s senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, marks a decade since Congress last tackled the issue of radiation exposure among the people who handled uranium as part of the Cold War effort.

The legislation recognizes “a generation of hardworking Americans who sacrificed their lives and health by working or living near the uranium mines,” Udall said. “We are taking the next step to close this sad chapter in our history by expanding RECA to include all who are justified in receiving radiation exposure compensation.”

Mark Udall, who is Tom Udall’s cousin, said the measure recognizes the “patriots who worked on nuclear sites and in uranium mines during the Cold War were crucial to maintaining our national security.”

Miners dug for uranium in poorly ventilated mines, haulers rode in close proximity to uranium ore, and millers worked in dusty surroundings that increased their susceptibility to radiation-related illnesses.

Existing laws cut off benefits at 1971, when the U.S. government ceased to be the sole domestic buyer of uranium. The struggle against the Soviet Union, however, continued for two more decades.

“During the Cold War, thousands of Coloradans served our country by working to build the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and now we know that through no fault of their own, they were not properly protected from harmful radiation exposure,” Bennet said.

In addition to making “post-‘71” nuclear-industry workers eligible for compensation, the 2011 amendments would:

Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers.

Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees;

Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases;

Make all claimants available for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000;

Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits.

Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Utah for the Nevada Test Site.

Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim.


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