Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 5338, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2021
Washington, December 8, 2021
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 5338, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2021:
"H.R. 5338, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2021, continues this Committee’s important work to strengthen and update the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA. Created in 1990, this program compensates people harmed by atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons by the United States government and by uranium mining that was done to produce these weapons.
"Last month, the Committee passed, with strong bipartisan support, Representative Greg Stanton’s bill, H.R. 612, the Downwinders Parity Act of 2021. That legislation made eligible certain geographic areas that had previously—and unjustifiably—been excluded from the program. At the time, I noted that we would consider other proposals to reform the Act at a later date, and that is what we are here to do today.
"H.R. 5338 would extend the life of the RECA Trust Fund and substantially expand compensation eligibility for those harmed by the U.S. government’s activities related to nuclear weapons development.
"Among the bill’s major proposed changes to RECA are:
"To be eligible for compensation under RECA, a person must have been an on-site atomic test site participant, lived in certain covered downwind counties during a specified time period, or worked as a specified category of uranium worker within a certain timeframe. In addition, a successful claimant must have contracted certain specified illnesses associated with radiation exposure.
"Starting in the 1940s with the development of the atom bomb during World War II, the U.S. government embarked on a decades-long program of nuclear weapons development.
"In the continental United States, atmospheric testing occurred primarily, but not exclusively, at the Nevada Test Site, where the federal government conducted 100 atmospheric tests during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The United States also conducted hundreds of underwater and atmospheric atomic tests in various regions of the Pacific Ocean.
"Coinciding with this period was an increase in uranium mining. Thousands of U.S. uranium workers labored to produce the raw materials needed to fuel U.S. nuclear weapons development. During this period, the U.S. government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore, but in 1964, the federal government permitted private ownership of uranium ore. In this sense, the commercial uranium industry is directly traceable to the U.S. government’s nuclear weapons development efforts.
"Many uranium mines were located on tribal lands and many uranium mine workers were drawn from surrounding Native American communities. Although the U.S. government and the private mining companies it contracted with knew of the dangers inherent in uranium mining, they did little to warn these Native American uranium workers or their communities about the dangers inherent in uranium mining. Many Native American communities and tribal lands still bear the scars of this injustice.
"The fact is that the federal government was aware of the potential hazards associated with atomic weapons testing but failed to warn or adequately protect individuals and communities downwind from the test sites of the dangers from radiation.
"Similarly, with respect to uranium mining, the federal government failed to warn or adequately protect uranium workers and their communities regarding the dangers posed by radon and radioactive particles.
"Underlying this history is the fact that the U.S. government was not only in the best position to potentially mitigate the harm its atomic weapons development caused, but it also had the moral responsibility to do so.
"In response, and in acknowledgement of the federal government’s responsibility, Congress passed RECA over 30 years ago and expanded its scope further in 2000.
"Yet many individuals affected by the U.S. government’s atomic weapons development activities remain ineligible under the RECA program. For instance, downwinders in New Mexico, site of the Nation’s first atomic weapons test, were excluded from RECA. Many of these individuals are arguably similarly situated to those currently eligible under RECA yet they have been denied the chance for compensation. As a matter of basic justice, it is time to correct this inequality."I thank Representatives Teresa Leger Fernandez and Burgess Owens, the lead sponsors of this bill, as well as Senator Mike Crapo and Senator Ben Ray Luján, the lead sponsors of the Senate companion, for their leadership, and I urge all Members to support this important bipartisan legislation."