By Shadrach Michaels
The United States government conducted nearly 200 atmospheric nuclear weapons development tests in the deserts of Nevada, from 1945 to 1962.
White Pine, Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye Counties, and portions of Clark County were all adversely affected by those tests, so much so, that in 1990 the United States put into effect, The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), as an apology and monetary compensation to individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases as a result of their testing.
Populations of uranium miners, millers, and ore transporters, onsite participants; and individuals who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site, known as “downwinders”, as well as many Native American tribes, the Navajo, Hopi, Yavapai, Apache, and Spokane nations, are among those who have and are still filing for medical assistance related to the atmospheric nuclear testing and uranium industry employment.
However, all claims under the RECA must be filed by July 9, 2022 and any claim received after July 9, 2022, will be barred. This deadline will cut off access to thousands of people at a time in their lives when they may need it most.
With the deadline set to end compensation for residents in a very close three year’s time, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto spoke on the issue while visiting White Pine County, a region of Nevada hard hit by the government’s atmospheric nuclear tests.
“This is key to ensuring that we are protecting the safety, health, and well-being of people in this state from the atomic testing that was done,” Cortez Masto said. “Believe me, I had neighbors growing up in Southern Nevada that worked at the test site at the time, and my family was here then watching the mushroom clouds. From my perspective, the government should continue to support “downwinders” and individuals we know that are, as a result of that testing, now, unfortunately, the recipients of these terminable cases of cancer and other diseases. I think it [the RECA] should be continued and make sure we are doing everything we can to protect any senior who is, as a result of that, in their golden years, needing continued health care support.”
If you were born in these regions of our state in 1945, you will only be 77 years old in 2022. If you have developed or do experience any of the many serious and life threatening illnesses that are linked to the nuclear testing you may find yourself out of luck if the RECA is allowed to lapse in just three years.
As an entire generation of people in Nevada and the Western region of the United States come into their sixties, seventies, and eighties, more people in twelve western states affected by this testing need to stand up, speak up, and demand there be an extension of this program to ensure “downwinders” here in Nevada, as well as the hardest working Americans in Utah, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, and Texas, are protected and taken care of past the 2022 deadline. If you or someone you know has developed certain types of cancers or other serious diseases following their exposure to radiation released during the atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, or following their occupational exposure to radiation while employed in the uranium industry during the Cold War arsenal buildup, they can benefit from the RECA. Doing something now very well may protect you, family members, friends and neighbors in the long run, but if the program expires tens of thousands of people will receive nothing for their medical expenses, screenings, treatments, prescription costs, funeral costs, or for their suffering as a result of the government’s missteps.
The RECA establishes lump sum compensation awards for individuals who have contracted specified diseases in three defined populations, specifically: uranium miners, millers, and ore transporters are eligible for up to $100,000 in compensation; “onsite participants” at atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, may qualify for $75,000; and individuals who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site, “downwinders” may collect upwards of $50,000. For more information, review the Department of Justice’ s website for compensation programs at: https://www.justice.gov/civil/common/reca. According to their last press release, the Department of Justice has surpassed $2 Billion in awards under this program as the act specifies six common diseases: primary cancers of the lung, fibrosis of the lung, pulmonary fibrosis, cor pulmonale related to fibrosis of the lung, silicosis, and pneumoconiosis.
The Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (“RESEP”), administered by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources Services Administration, provides grants for education, prevention, and early detection of radiogenic cancers and diseases. Without more citizens advocating for the extension of these programs, they will end. And they will end soon. What you can do is call your state and federal representatives to help ensure this program goes beyond 2022, to guarantee people in these 12 states are protected and provided for in the long term.
Here in Nevada, Cortez Masto is interested in hearing from Nevadans about this issue, “We will look at this more because it’s interesting, as long as I have been in the Senate, going on three years now, this issue has never come up before, from any constituent in this state, as being an issue or concern of theirs. It’s fascinating to me… I had not heard that the program was ending. Perhaps people don’t know it is due to expire, but as soon as more people learn the RECA is due to be terminated, I suspect my office will receive more calls and emails from individuals, which we pay attention to on a regular basis.” If you or a loved one has been detrimentally affected by radiological exposure due to the atmospheric detonations that were conducted during the atomic testing period you may be eligible to receive assistance. If you or your family members lived in any of the twelve states listed previously, symptoms may develop during later stages of life and a phone call now may provide relief if health complications develop after 2022.
Call or write to Senator Cortez Masto at https://www.cortezmasto.senate.gov/help/help-with-a-federal-agency. Or call her offices in Las Vegas: 702) 388-5020; Reno: (775) 686-5750; Rural Nevada: (775) 225-1457 or the Senate Offices in Washington DC: (202) 224-3542.