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US Senate panel to hear Guam’s inclusion in radiation exposure compensation program

HAGÅTÑA — Guam is getting close to achieving its long quest for inclusion in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary is scheduled to hold a hearing on June 27, 2018 for S.B. 197, also known as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments or RECA of 2017, which would allow those who lived in Guam between 1945 and 1962 and who suffered from cancer or other listed radiation-related illness, to apply for compensation that would include free medical care and up to $150,000 from the remaining funds in the RECA Trust Fund.

It has been more than a decade since the National Research Council declared Guam’s eligibility for compensation under the RECA program. In 2005, the council released a report concluding that “Guam did receive measurable fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific” between 1946 and 1958.  The council recommended that people living on island during that period be compensated under RECA “in a way similar to that of persons considered to be downwinders.”

As of 2017, the Justice Department had awarded more than $2 billion in “compassionate compensation” to eligible claimants under RECA, which provides up to $150,000 to victims of radiation.  No one from Guam has received a cent from this program. The RECA program expires in 2022, but the justice department will stop receiving applications in 2020 to allow a two-year period to process the compensation.

Robert N. Celestial, president of PARS and longtime advocate for the inclusion of Guam in RECA, will testify before the U.S. Senate Committee.

About 67 nuclear devices were detonated by the Atomic Energy Commission in or around the Marshalls between 1946 and 1962. “The radiation emanating from these explosions severely affected those who lived in the Marshall Islands, resulting in everything from cancers to birth deformities. However, the radioactive fallout didn’t stop there: it extended downwind over 1,000 miles away to Guam,” states the council’s report.

The 2005 study established that Guam did receive radioactive debris from fallout during the nuclear-weapons testing in the Pacific Ocean.  The report, along with other studies, have established a correlation between the nuclear testing and high incidences of cancer in Guam, which is the second leading cause of death locally.

About 67 nuclear devices were detonated by the Atomic Energy Commission in or around the Marshalls between 1946 and 1962. “The radiation emanating from these explosions severely affected those who lived in the Marshall Islands, resulting in everything from cancers to birth deformities. However, the radioactive fallout didn’t stop there: it extended downwind over 1,000 miles away to Guam,” states the council’s report.

Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje said the introduction of the RECA amendment bill is “another step forward achieved by PARS’ fight for justice and assistance for those exposed to radiation on Guam during nuclear weapons testing conducted by the U.S. government in the Marshall Islands.”

Terlaje will also be attending the hearing and following up on lobbying that she participated in last October 2017. She will push for Resolution No. 39-34, passed unanimously by the 34th Guam Legislature in April 2017, which petitioned the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would compensate those suffering from cancer and health issues due to radiation exposure from nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific.

 “Justice is long overdue,” Terlaje said. “Free medical care and compassionate payments of $150,000 will certainly help cancer patients on Guam. Mr. Robert Celestial and the people of Guam have been working for years to educate lawmakers and ensure justice and financial redress for Guam, as has been given to other downwind populations who have endured the environmental and health impacts from radiation. A Senate hearing on whether to include Guam is an historic first. I want members of Congress to recognize that this is a very important issue that warrants justice for Guam’s people and that Guam’s leaders are in full support.”