Foundation Being Laid For 'Radiation Exposure Compensation Act' Reform
Thursday, September 13th,’07
WINDOW ROCK: When the Navajo Nation approved a ban in 2005 on uranium
mining and processing within Navajo Indian County, it was done with the
realization that the Nation would be losing out on millions of dollars in
fees and royalties.
But as Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and numerous council
delegates have said, “The lives of the people are more important than the
money to be obtained, and there is no answer to the illnesses that have
resulted from uranium mining,” according to presidential spokesman George
“We still have people today who are sick and are dying as a result of
past uranium mining. The president has said countless times, ‘Show us the
cure to this before we reconsider allowing uranium mining to come back on
“At the time there was uranium mining, it was known to be dangerous.
However, it was known to everyone except the Navajos who were mining. That
has been well-documented. And that’s perpetrating a fraud on the Navajo
people to get access to a potentially hazardous ore. This is the reason that
the Navajo Nation passed its law,” Hardeen said.
But the Navajo people were not the only ones kept in the dark. While they
were laboring in underground mines in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado
drinking the cool water that trickled down the walls and breathing the
dust that permeated the mine shafts as they blasted their way deeper into
the earth people across the United States also were being exposed to
From 1945 through 1962, the United States conducted a series of
above-ground atomic weapons tests which spewed radioactive fallout from test
sites in Nevada and New Mexico.
That exposure “is presumed to have produced an increased incidence of
certain serious diseases, including various types of cancer,” according to
the Government Accountability Office, which last Friday released a status
report on the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA.
On July 16, 1945, at Alamogordo, N.M., the world¹s first atomic
explosion, “Trinity”, shot radioactive debris 7 miles high and sunk
plutonium 13 inches deep into the ground around the site. By autumn, film
inspectors at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., detected footprints of the
The mysterious, tiny white dots that appeared on Eastman¹s film, ruining
it, were determined to have been caused by radioactive cerium-141. The
particles traveled across the United States from New Mexico and rained down
As J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, watched the
detonation of Trinity, he is reported to have been reminded of a passage
from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, shatterer of worlds.”
That afternoon, the Albuquerque Tribune reported: ”An ammunition
magazine, containing high-explosives and pyrotechnics, exploded early today
in a remote area of the Alamogordo air base reservation, producing a
brilliant flash and blast which were reported to have been observed as far
away as Gallup, 235 miles to the north.”
Richard L. Miller, author of “Under the Cloud,” reported that Los Alamos
scientists found that Herefords in the immediate vicinity of the Trinity
site lost their hair. “When it grew back, it came in white.”
To date, New Mexico downwinders are not covered under RECA, established
in 1990 to compensate the survivors of radiation exposure.
According to GAO,(Government Accounting Office) the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, or RECP,has authorized payments totaling $1.2 billion for 18,110 claims since RECPbegan processing claims in April 1992. Almost half of the $1.2 billion was
paid to claimants who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site.
The 18,110 claims represent about two-thirds of the 26,550 claims filed
since 1992. The remaining one-third of the claims was denied, because RECA¹s
eligibility criteria were not satisfied.
The RECA Amendments of 2000 broadened the scope of eligibility for
benefits and added uranium mill workers and ore transporters to the
categories of beneficiaries. Congress also added San Juan County, Utah, and
Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo, Apache, and Gila, Ariz., to the list of
”downwinder” counties, making those residents potentially eligible for
This past May, Utah Rep. Jim Matheson and Rep. Mike Simpson sent a letter
to the House Judiciary Committee requesting a hearing on the expansion of
RECA, stating, “As you know, over the course of more than two decades, the
United States carried out more than 1,000 nuclear weapons tests.
“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 S For decades, individuals living within the fallout areas have lived
with adverse health effects caused by radiation exposure.
“Eligibility for compensation, however, is limited to certain counties in
just a few states. These geographic boundaries are, quite frankly, arbitrary
boundaries that do not account for the fact that radioactive fallout does
not abide by lines on a map. Some of the counties experiencing the largest
concentration of fallout in the entire nation are not included in the
current RECA program.”
The congressmen said they do not believe RECA has received serious review
by Congress in the last seven years and that the time for review is now
Last month, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate (S. 1917)
to amend RECA to include downwinders in Idaho and Montana.
U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Wednesday, "Over time it¹s become clear
that Congress should begin the process of revising the Radiation Exposure
act. I am eager to start working to reform and expand this program and am
currently working with the Navajo Nation and other members of Congress from
the Four Corners region to begin laying the foundation for such reform.
“The first step is for Congress to fully evaluate RECA through our
oversight mechanisms. In order to make the substantive and necessary reform
we need, the Congress must fully evaluate the program and find out the
successes and downfalls individuals have experienced with the act since its
“In the coming months, along with the Navajo Nation and other members of
Congress, I will be one of the hosts of a roundtable on the issue at which
time we will discuss uranium mine issues and the steps we can take to move
forward on remedying a difficult situation,” Udall said.
In August, following introduction of the legislation, Jude McCartin of
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman¹s office, said, “Sen. Bingaman is studying the
legislation.” He has not yet said whether he will support it, or propose
inclusion of New Mexico as a downwinder state.
Staffers for U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, a proponent of “clean nuclear
energy,” have not responded to questions from the Independent regarding
whether Domenici will support the legislation.
Media representatives for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a presidential
candidate and former U.S. Energy Secretary, also have not responded as to
whether the governor might push for New Mexico to be included under RECA.
Regarding Navajo and the revival of the nuclear age, Hardeen, said, ³The
companies make an argument that their method of mining uranium now is safe.
But there are still people who have been hurt by uranium mining. These are
the elderly people and people who were uranium miners.
“What about them? They have struggled to get the compensation that the
federal government said they deserved. The Navajo Nation had to hire a law
firm, Killian & Associates in Grand Junction, to help these miners get the
compensation that the federal law was set up to allow them to have. It’s
still a struggle.
“As a result, the Navajo Nation has said ‘No more.’ It doesn¹t need to
put itself into that situation again. These people are still hurt, and it
affects entire families.
“President Shirley has said it has cost the Navajo Nation its own culture
because these elders who are dying from various types of illnesses and
cancers, they are the repositories of Navajo culture. They have the songs,
the ceremonies, the teachings; and we are losing them and losing that. The
cost is just tremendous, measured in that way,” Hardeen said.
NAVAJO OFFICIAL TO NRC: MINE URANIUM, BUT NOT ON NAVAJO LAND!
September 8, 2007
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting Sept. 27 at the Best Western Inn and Suites, 3009 W. Hwy. 66 in Gallup to listen to public comments on the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for licensing in-situ leach recovery and conventional milling facilities.
The public meeting is set for 7-9:30 p.m., with an informal open house to be held 6-7 p.m.
Information about the GEIS was published in the Federal Register on July 24 and Aug. 31. The agency is accepting written comments on the scope of the GEIS through Oct. 8. Comments should be addressed to Chief, Rules Review and Directives Branch, Mail Stop T-6D59, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., 20555-0001; or by electronic mail to URLGeis@nrc.gov.
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