Gallup Independent

Matheson requests hearing on RECA expansion

By Kathy Helms
Gallup Independent

Saturday, May 26, 2007

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 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to cover potential victims of radioactive fallout in 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 to help 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.