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Bill Would Expand Benefits for Tribal Members and Others Exposed to Cold War Radiation

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A bill in the U.S. Senate would expand compensation for those sickened by Cold War-era nuclear weapons testing and uranium mining. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, many tribal members in the Southwest were left out of the original program.

The bill would amend the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA. It provides restitution to many people known as “downwinders,” along with uranium mine workers throughout the West.

However, residents in some areas of the Navajo Nation, Arizona, New Mexico and other states aren’t covered, along with miners who worked during much of the 1970s. Many are tribal members who suffer from lung disease, cancer and other health problems they attribute to working in the mines and being exposed to radiation.

The current Senate bill would broaden eligibility for compensation and medical benefits. Navajo President Jonathan Nez and a group of former tribal uranium miners are pushing for its approval.

The U.S. tested nearly 200 atmospheric nuclear weapons between 1945 and 1962. About 30 million tons of uranium ore was mined on or near the Navajo Nation until the mid-1980s.

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Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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