Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RECA Amendments of 2011 - Will Congress Finally Make Those Much-Needed Changes to the RECA Program?

On April 12, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2011 were introduced in the Senate.  This bill aims to improve RECA by making government compensation available to a broader population, facilitating the claims process, and increasing the amount paid to individuals who have contracted certain cancers and other serious illnesses as a result of exposure to radiation released during aboveground atomic weapons tests or as a result of employment in uranium mines.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who is spearheading the bipartisan effort to amend RECA, provides the following summary of the bill on his website (http://tomudall.senate.gov):

“Specifically, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2011 would:
• Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed after Dec. 31, 1971 These are individuals who began working in uranium mines and mills after the U.S. stopped purchasing uranium, but failed to implement and enforce adequate uranium mining safety standards. Many of these workers have the same illnesses as pre-1971 workers who currently qualify for RECA compensation.
• Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees, which currently only includes miners, millers and ore transporters.
• Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases for employees of mines and mills. Currently, millers and transporters are covered for kidney disease, but miners are not.
• Allow claimants to combine work histories to meet the requirement of the legislation. For example, individuals who worked half a year in a mill and half a year in a mine would be eligible for compensation. Currently, the Department of Justice makes some exceptions for this, but the policy is not codified in law.
• Make all claimants available for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000, regardless of whether they are millers, miners, ore transporters, onsite employees, or downwinders.
• Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits. Currently, only miners, millers and ore transporters can claim medical benefits through the medical expense compensation program.
• Recognize radiation exposure from the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, as well as tests in the Pacific Ocean.
• Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the Trinity Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests.
• Allow the use of affidavits to substantiate employment history, presence in affected area, and work at a test site. Current legislation only allows miners to use affidavits.
• Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim, as was mandated in the original 1990 RECA legislation.
• Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers. The funds would be allocated to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to award grants to universities and non-profits to carry out the research..."
Clearly, the RECA Amendments of 2011 is a promising piece of legislation, but it is important to keep in mind that it is still a bill at this point.  Many bills are introduced in Congress each year, but very few go on to become laws.  This means that the future of the RECA Amendments of 2011 is by no means certain.

So how can you get involved?  If you’d like to see the RECA Amendments of 2011 become law, you must contact your representatives in Congress.  (For tips on writing to your Congressmen, please see my March 8th blog post.)

We’re keeping our fingers crossed here at the Law Offices of Laura J. Taylor, and we promise to keep you updated on this exciting new bill!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Some Thoughts on Japan's Nuclear Crisis

In August 1945, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. The immediate aftermath was devastating: tens of thousands dead, miles of buildings reduced to ash, massive spikes in radiation. But the suffering wasn’t over. The atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki would continue to claim victims for years to come, causing leukemia and other serious radiation-related illnesses in those exposed to the fallout.

Now, over sixty years later, Japan faces another nuclear disaster: the catastrophic failure of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The events unfolding at the Fukushima facility are being called the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history, and it is widely feared that the radiation leaking from the damaged reactors will create a public health crisis. As the situation at Fukushima goes from bad to worse, we are left with a number of questions: How many people will be exposed to radiation? How many will become ill or die? How far will the escaped radioactive materials travel? How can we prevent this kind of accident in the future? Our answers, unfortunately, may be a long time in coming.

The tragedies at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and now Fukushima serve as powerful reminders of the destructive potential of nuclear technology. As Downwinders, our clients are keenly aware of this potential. They know that the effects of nuclear explosions—be they attacks, accidents, or tests—are long-lasting and widespread. And they understand the human cost of nuclear fallout not through news reports or photographs, but through personal experience.

So what can we take away from all this? For those of us who work with victims of the nuclear testing, two things seem especially clear: we must work to make nuclear technology safer, and we must fight to secure compensation for the victims of nuclear fallout.

We encourage you to join us in this fight. As Downwinders, you have a unique ability to raise awareness and advocate for change. As always, we ask that you contact your representatives in Congress. Voice your concerns. Share your experiences. Insist on justice.