Congressmen Request Hearing On Radioactive Fallout
Dine Bureau - Gallup Independent
WINDOW ROCK -- U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, 2nd District/Utah, and Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho have asked the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary to conduct a hearing on the possibility of expanding the federal RadiationExposure Compensation Act to cover potential victims of radioactive falloutin Utah and Idaho.
Matheson, who represents Utah Navajo, said the RECA program, put in place by Congress in 1990, currently covers a limited number of counties in Utah, Nevada and Arizona.
RECA provides monetary damages to victims of cancer and other illnesses linked to exposure from radioactive fallout during the nuclear weapons testing of the 1950s and 1960s at the Nevada Test Site. To date, more than$1 billion in compensation has been paid to "downwinders" and uranium miners, millers and ore transporters.
"As you know, over the course of more than two decades, the United States carried out more than 1,000 nuclear weapons tests," the Congressmen said.
"The radioactive debris from these tests entered our nation's atmosphere and was later deposited, in the form of radioactive fallout, all across our nation."
For decades, individuals living within the fallout areas have lived with adverse health effects caused by radiation exposure. Today, individuals meeting certain criteria can apply for compensation ranging from $50,000 to$75,000 per individual, the letter states.
"Eligibility for compensation, however, is limited to certain counties in just a few states. These geographical boundaries are, quite frankly, arbitrary boundaries that do not account for the fact that radioactive fallout does not abide by lines on the map," the Congressmen said.
"Some of the counties experiencing the largest concentration of fallout in the entire nation are not included in the current RECA program --including areas in our home states of Idaho and Utah," they said.
Matheson noted that in 2000, Congress chose to enhance the RECA program by adding additional categories of compensable illnesses.
"However, we believe that since RECA has not received serious review by the Congress in the past seven years, now is an appropriate time for the Judiciary Committee to hold an oversight hearing on this important federal law," the letter states.
Matheson and Simpson said if a hearing is granted, they are available tohelp gather witnesses and assist in crafting the scope of the hearing.
On Wednesday, Matheson applauded action by the House Energy and Water Subcommittee which zeroed out funding in the Fiscal Year 2008 budget for the Reliable Replacement Warhead -- a proposed new nuclear bomb. The Energy and Water Subcommittee also provided no funding for a plutonium pit center proposed by the administration.
Last week on the House floor, Matheson urged colleagues to show restraint in supporting the new warhead program, which he fears will result in a resumption of nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site.
"I question why we'd invest billions of dollars in a program that scientific experts have said isn't needed and can't be certified as reliable in the absence of testing," he said.
"We know our current stockpile containing thousands of nuclear bombs is reliable. In fact, contrary to the administration's claims, an independent review panel just concluded that the existing plutonium pits have life spans of at least 85 years and most are good for 100 years or more.
"We should not be in any hurry to go down this new nuclear weapons path until we have more information about the purpose, the cost and the potential for resumed testing of new nuclear weapons," he said.
"The history of the Department of Energy includes a long list of canceled and over-budget projects that were started before the objective was thoroughly understood. We cannot make that mistake with the nation's nuclear weapons complex, or the decision to begin building new nuclear weapons."
Matheson said he is pleased that the bill provides no funding, as past defense authorization bills did, for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or "bunker-buster," as it is called.
Congressman Pushes For Radio Active Waste Cleanup
By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau - Gallup Independent
WINDOW ROCK -- Language added last week to the annual defense bill by U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, (D), 2nd District/Utah, would require the Department of Energy to complete removal and cleanup of 16 million tons of radioactive waste from the Atlas uranium mill tailings site near the Colorado River bythe year 2019.
Matheson said the timetable recently outlined by U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman projecting completion after 21 years is arbitrary an unacceptable.
"DOE has a miserable record here, to be honest, and I've fired many shots across the bow before, but this was the time for the direct hit," he said."This business to say 2028 is just unacceptable."
Matheson noted that DOE's own Record of Decision issued in 2005 has aseven to 10 year timeframe for cleanup. Yet the agency continues to delayand most recently said it wouldn't finish removal of the tailings pile andcleanup before 2028.
"There's overwhelming scientific evidence that this site is unstable and that the contamination, already migrating under the river toward the town of Moab, could, with one major flood event, be dumped into the Colorado. That disaster would put the health and safety of 25 million downstream users at risk," he said.
The 94-foot-high pile of uranium mill tailings from the Atlas site nearMoab lies in a flood plain next to the Colorado River, where it is leaching chemicals into the river and groundwater of local communities, posing health and safety concerns for downstream users in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California, he said.
Matheson has been leading the fight in Congress to push DOE to remove the tailings pile and clean up the site. In 2005, DOE signed a Record ofDecision clearing the way for removal of the tailings.
Under the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project Site Record of Decision, the tailings are to be moved by rail to the proposed Crescent Junction site, more than 30 miles from the Colorado River. However, DOE continues to delay the timeline and now proposes to complete the project 16years later than it originally proposed.
Cleanup of the tailings stalled when Atlas Corp. declared bankruptcy in 1998, leaving behind an interim cap over the tailings pile and inadequate cleanup funds. In 2000, Congress mandated that DOE find a way to clean up the site and move the tailings.
The mandate called for ground water restoration, removal of the tailing to a site in Utah for permanent disposal and any necessary stabilization of residual radioactive material and other contaminated material from the Moab site and Colorado River floodplain.
Studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Research Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Utah, and independent scientists all have pointed to the dangers of leaving the tailings pile in place.
The studies show that contaminants already have traveled beneath the river, and indicate that it may take only episodic high flows and the natural wandering of the Colorado to undercut the tailings pile and flood the river corridor for miles with radioactive waste.
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