By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The U.S. Senate has adopted an amendment to its version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act that would include Radiation Exposure Compensation Act coverage for Guam downwinders.
“This is the farthest we've come and praise the Lord almighty," said Robert Celestial, president of the Pacific Association of Radiation Survivors, who has been advocating for Guam's inclusion in RECA for decades.
The amendment, passed by a vote of 61-37, would reauthorize the RECA fund and expand the RECA program to include jurisdictions that had been affected by radiation exposure.
The amendment includes individuals from Guam who were exposed to radiation and subsequently developed specified cancers due to the fallout from the atomic and hydrogen bomb testing by the United States in the Marshall Islands between 1946 to 1962.
Guam's inclusion in the RECA program has repeatedly been introduced in the U.S. Congress but the proposal never reached the finish line.
"We were pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss this important issue with members of the U.S. Senate last congressional term to help garner support for this effort. We appreciate Sens. Hawley, Lujan, and Crapo sponsoring the amendment to recognize and include Guam’s people," Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said.
Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio stated, “We are also thankful to Mr. Robert Celestial and Pacific Association for Radiation Survivors for their relentless advocacy to secure medical care for Guam residents who have had cancer and other diseases caused by radiation from nuclear tests in the Pacific. Their years of consistent work on this issue for our community became fruitful today.”
The amendment 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, the amendment would expand the geographic downwinder eligibility to include then-residents of Idaho, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Guam.
The amendment also extends the program for 19 years, expands the program to include uranium mining workers through 1990 and expands the use of affidavits in determining eligibility claims.
“Far too many innocent victims have been lost to cancer-related deaths from Cold War era above-ground weapons testing,” Crapo said.
“The Senate’s passage of this amendment is an important step toward future enactment of this legislation, which will mean Idahoans and Americans who have suffered the health consequences of exposure to fallout from nuclear weapons testing will finally start to receive the compensation they rightfully deserve.”