Tell Your Members of Congress: Expand Recognition and Compensation for Nuclear Weapons Victims July 19, 2023

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Oppenheimer: Because of his work, their lives will never be the same.

Beginning this Thursday, people across the country will flock to their local theater to see Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster about the dawn of the nuclear age. However, what audiences will not see is the community harmed by the very first nuclear test featured in the film – harm that has lasted for nearly 80 years. Nor will they bear witness to the hundreds of thousands of others across the country exposed to radiation from subsequent nuclear testing and production.

In 1945, the U.S. government conducted the first nuclear weapons test in the world, the Trinity Test in New Mexico. The testing ground has been described as a remote area, but nearly half a million people lived within 150 miles of the Trinity test site. They were not evacuated or warned of the test, and the government did not monitor people’s health, despite realizing that radiation spread far off-site (as far as Indiana, even).

Those potentially exposed — “Downwinders” — have reported devastating cancers and other health impacts. But they, and many others, have never been included in federal programs that recognize and compensate those impacted by nuclear testing and production.

Tell your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor HR 4426 / S 1751, legislation to extend and expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) before it’s too late.

Estimates of the number of cancer cases linked to U.S. nuclear testing ranges from tens to hundreds of thousands. And since the early 20th century, we have known that there is a clear link between cancers and radiation exposure in uranium mines and mills. This is also an issue of environmental and racial justice: nuclear weapons activities have disproportionately contaminated the environment and threatened the health of Indigenous communities, communities of color, and poor, rural communities.

RECA currently provides a small amount of compensation to some Downwinders and uranium miners. It is a valuable program, and its enactment was a huge step towards justice for those harmed. But it still has major flaws. Many highly exposed communities are still excluded from RECA. It does not provide any medical benefits, and the amount of compensation victims receive falls far short of covering the cost of cancer care. And, RECA is set to expire in June 2024.

Thankfully, new legislation before Congress would vastly improve RECA, including by:

  • Extending the program for 19 years to allow additional individuals to apply;
  • Expanding coverage to additional uranium workers and downwinders who are currently excluded; and
  • Increasing compensation and providing medical benefits.

Send a message to your Representative and Senators today to co-sponsor HR 4426 / S 1751 so these communities harmed by Oppenheimer’s legacy can receive the justice they deserve.

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