US Senate votes to expand assistance for US nuclear impacted communities


On 27 July, the US Senate voted to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to include more people affected by US nuclear testing, including the first US nuclear test in New Mexico, as well as to include workers in the uranium mining industry after 1971. One week earlier, a new research study was released indicating that U.S. atmospheric nuclear testing in New Mexico and Nevada resulted in fallout across all 48 states, as well as Canada and Mexico. In New Mexico and elsewhere, the study revealed that areas with significant radioactive fallout were not covered by RECA, and indeed, some areas left out of assistance under the legislation received more fallout than those included

The Senate voted, 86-11, to include the amendments to RECA into its version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Once the entire act passes the Senate, expected next week, it must be merged with the version passed by the House of Representatives before being signed into law by the U.S. President. 

The Senate vote is a significant victory in light of the political injustice facing many downwinders in New Mexico who have received no support or assistance as a result of their exposure to the nuclear fallout from these tests. Downwinders (those facing the consequences of radiation exposure) such as the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium have continuously fought for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to be expanded, since many impacted communities, in New Mexico and beyond, have been excluded for decades. 

The vote comes on the heels of the publication of new research highlighting this injustice. Sebastian Phillipe, Susan Alzner, Gilbert P. Compo, Mason Grimshaw, and Megan Smith released a new research paper on 21 July, demonstrating the spread of radiological fallout from 94 U.S. atmospheric tests from 1945-1962 across North America in five days following each test (ten in the case of the first Trinity test in New Mexico). The paper was featured in the New York Times along with interviews from the authors. 

This study uses a fallout simulation model, including weather and wind patterns at the time of the test to outline which counties and states were most affected by the Trinity and subsequent U.S. tests and reveals that many highly affected counties are not covered by RECA. As one example, Socorro County, where the Trinity test took place, “has the 5th highest deposition per country of all counties in the U.S,” that study finds, noting that all other counties with this level of contamination are eligible for RECA compensation. 

The research, as its authors note, has value beyond the United States, as its approach may be used to document the spread of radioactive fallout in other nuclear weapon states, particularly in those without existing data. It may be particularly useful for states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to conduct assessments of harm posed by nuclear weapons use and testing in order to implement obligations under Articles 6 and 7 to provide and cooperate on victim assistance and environmental remediation.

For more information about worldwide nuclear testing impacts, check out ICAN’s nuclear weapons test map shows each test that occurred in the United States as well as those all over the world featuring resources and testimonials from experts and survivors. 

Check out the map