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Crapo Delivers Remarks Expressing Disappointment in Lack of Radiation Compensation in Defense Bill

Washington, D.C.--U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) delivered remarks on the Senate floor to express his disappointment after updates to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) were not included in the conference report of the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

The amendment, which passed the Senate 61-37 in July, would expand the coverage area to allow more potential victims, those who lived downwind of above-ground atomic weapons tests in the 1950s and 1960s, known as “downwinders,” to file for compensation under RECA.  While the original RECA program only covered individuals who lived in parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona, this amendment would expand the geographic downwinder eligibility to include then-residents of Idaho, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Guam.  The amendment would extend the program for 19 years, expand the program to include uranium mining workers through 1990 and expand the use of affidavits in determining eligibility claims.

reca speech

To watch Senator Crapo’s full remarks, click HERE or the image above.

“Mr./Madam President:

“I rise today to urge the Senate to do more for Americans who have suffered from the aftereffects of the development of our nuclear arsenal. 

“It is profoundly disappointing to see that the necessary updates to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, spearheaded by Senators Lujan, Hawley, Schmitt and myself, were not included in the conference report of the National Defense Authorization Act. 

“When America developed the atom bomb through the Manhattan project, and tested those weapons through the Trinity tests, our country unknowingly poisoned those who mined, transported and milled uranium, those who participated in nuclear testing, and those who lived downwind of the tests.

“Don Harrison was one of those who lived downwind.

“Born in Emmett, Idaho, Don was born in 1931, and graduated from Emmett High School in 1949. 

He served in the U.S. Army from 1950-1953, came back to Emmett to marry the love of his life, Donna, and worked as a farmer, dairy deliveryman, mechanic and truck driver to provide for his nine children.  His family describes him as a loving father who taught the values of hard work and integrity and to see the worth and light in others.

But because Emmett received the third-most radiation from being downwind of the Trinity tests, Don Harrison lived on poisoned ground. 

He ended up contracting basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer, eventually passing away in 2018. 

His daughter Vonnie shared his story with the Idaho Downwinders, my staff and me in the hopes of finally righting the wrongs of leaving downwinders behind.

Don Harrison was one of the thousands in Gem County, Idaho, and beyond who were unfortunately living in an area downwind of the Trinity tests. 

And this is not a matter just affecting conservative or liberal states—the bipartisan nature of RECA updates is because it affects people regardless of political affiliation.  

To be clear, the government’s test of nuclear weapons caused this. 

It is our solemn duty to compensate those who have suffered because of these tests.

The RECA Amendments ensure those who live downwind of the tests receive compensation from the government, and provide support to uranium miners who worked during the Cold War. 

I have worked with my colleagues for the past 13 years to attempt to right these wrongs, and July’s vote to include RECA Amendments in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act shows the widespread, bipartisan support to help those who have suffered. 

It is frustrating and discouraging that bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress still cannot get this legislation enacted into law.

While this speech is unlikely to bring the necessary updates back into consideration with this conference report, I am committed to working with my colleagues to update RECA to better reflect the realities of nuclear testing. 

I thank Senators Lujan and Hawley, and Representatives Moylan and Leger Fernandez for their tireless work, as well as the countless advocates who have shared their stories to achieve this necessary goal. 

This fight is not over, and I look forward to the day where we can celebrate the necessary updates and commemorate those who did not live to see it.”

Crapo is a longtime Senate lead on expanding the RECA program.  In 2022, Senator Crapo was successful in securing an extension of the RECA program for two years, allowing individuals more time to apply for compensation.