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Navajo officials urge members of Congress to reauthorize and expand benefits for downwinders

Priscilla nuclear test
U.S. Department of Energy
The 37-kiloton "Priscilla" nuclear test was detonated at the Nevada Test Site in 1957. It was one of hundreds of detonations in the Southwest that impacted public health for generations.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez is pressing members of Congress to reauthorize and expand federal benefits for people known as downwinders who were exposed to radiation in the western U.S. during the Cold War.

The Radiation Compensation Exposure Act is set to expire in July and a bill introduced last year would extend the law until 2040 and add geographic areas and a range of years to calculate exposure for former workers in uranium mines, mills and those who transported ore.

“With the current Act set to expire three months from now, we need bipartisan support for the law’s extension and for the reauthorization and expansion of RECA through 2040 ... This is a united effort on behalf of former uranium miners and their families, to secure just compensation and benefits for the health issues and detrimental impacts of uranium mining conducted by the federal government,” said Nez in a press release.

Many Navajo Nation residents continue to experience long-term health problems from working in the uranium industry and exposure to the more than 500 abandoned uranium mines on the reservation.

Nez last week met with several members of Congress, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva and Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis, about the law’s reauthorization and expansion.