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Senate approves two-year extension of Radiation Exposure Compensation Act

U.S. Department of Energy
The Trinity detonation on July 16, 1945 was the world's first nuclear explosion taking place in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project.

The U.S. Senate has approved a two-year extension of a federal law that compensates residents in the West who were exposed to radiation during the Cold War.

It’s designed to give lawmakers more time to craft a larger expansion of the program.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, also known as RECA, was implemented in 1990 and is set to expire in July.

It provides one-time payouts for people known as downwinders who were exposed to radiation from nuclear detonations along with workers in uranium mines, mills and transport, many of whom are tribal members.

If the two-year extension is passed by the U.S. House, a larger expansion of RECA could last until 2040.

Congress is considering a bill that would also broaden the geographic area for coverage and include uranium workers exposed after 1971.

Many downwinders suffer from cancers and other long-term health problems.

Navajo Nation leaders are urging members of Congress to expand RECA even further to more residents and uranium workers and raise the compensation cap to at least $200,000.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered 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 Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.