As the United States House of Representatives continues to negotiate the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets the budget for the US Department of Defense, negotiators dropped an extension of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
RECA was passed in 1990 to provide financial restitution to individuals who were affected by the almost 200 atmospheric nuclear weapons development tests that spanned between 1945 and 1962. Individuals who were involved in uranium mining and processing, or were affected by the tests, who layered developed serious illnesses related to radiation, could receive up to $75,000.
President Joe Biden (D) extended RECA in 2022, though the law is set to expire in July 2024. Guam, which was affected by several nuclear tests on the nearby Marshall Islands, was never included in RECA, though the Pacific Association for Radiation Survivors (PARS) has worked for years to extend RECA to Guam and provide compensation. Many Guanamanians who lived on the island during the testing period are considered “Downwinders” because they were exposed to radiation and radioactive fallout, leading to cancer.
Delegate James Moylan (R) of Guam worked in the past few months to extend RECA to Guam, joining Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez (D) of New Mexico, Senator Ben Ray Lujan (D) of New Mexico, and Senator Mike Crapo (R) of Idaho in introducing legislation in July.
Moylan immediately faced setbacks despite the US Senate’s vote to expand RECA to Colorado, Guam, Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, and Montana. In August, Moylan announced that he would push for his stand-alone legislation that would compensate Guam downwinders if the NDAA measure failed.
The RECA measure would have raised the compensation limit from $75,000 to $150,000 and extended the law for another 19 years. PARS President Robert Celestial notes that “The island of Guam was devastated from 1946 to 1962 and kept secret (until) 1994 through the Human Radiation Experiments Advisory Committee to President Clinton.” In the 1970s, Army soldiers from Guam helped decontaminate radioactive fallout in the Marshall Islands, which was the site of 67 different nuclear bomb experiments. Many Guanamanians affected have still not been recognized by the federal government.
Moylan highlighted the connection to poor healthcare in Guam, saying, “Many of my constituents deal with this adverse effect to the exposure of toxic radiation, an issue that is compounded by the need to fly off island, either to Hawaii or the Philippines to get the care that they so desperately need.”
Negotiators cut the proposal because of concerns over rising costs. Still, this provision was the first time Guam was included in a RECA proposal, suggesting Moylan will continue to push the issue. Moylan recently said House Republicans were divided over expanding RECA because of a lack of funding. The expansion was originally projected to cost over $100 billion. Negotiators floated proposals to reduce the 19-year extension, also reducing the cost to $30 billion by lowering the compensation limit to $100,000. Ultimately, negotiators only could allot $20 billion for the program. Moylan reposted a statement by Senator Josh Hawley (R) of Missouri, another proponent of the measure, who said, “Americans poisoned by our government’s nuclear tests & waste are set to lose the lifesaving help they’ve relied on for over 30 years. RECA must be reauthorized in this NDAA before it expires in just a few months. Thousands of radiation victims depend on this program to survive.”