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Guam, NMI included in Radiation Exposure Compensation Act amendment bill

HAGÅTÑA — Guam and the CNMI are included in a draft U.S. House bill that would expand the scope of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or RECA which is set to expire in three years.

The yet-unnumbered bill, introduced by New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat, also covers New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nevada.

The draft bill includes individuals who were in the affected areas between 1945 and 1962.

The RECA program — which ends in 2022 — provides up to $150,000 for individuals who are suffering from leukemia as a result of radiation exposure during the United States’ nuclear testing and uranium mining.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced a similar bill in the U.S. Senate in March. Crapo’s bill, however, does not include the CNMI.

“Nearly 30 years ago, Congress passed RECA to provide compensation for atomic veterans and a limited number of others who contracted cancer as a direct result of their exposure to atmospheric nuclear testing,” Lujan said in a letter House Judiciary Committee House Judiciary Committee in August 2018.

“In 2000, Congress broadened the scope of the law to include additional individuals affected by radiation exposure. Since then, lawmakers have learned that many additional individuals who are sick or dying from radiation exposure are still unable to receive the compensation they deserve,” Lujan said.

As of 2017, the Justice Department had awarded more than $2 billion in “compassionate compensation” to eligible claimants under RECA.

The department said it will stop receiving applications in 2020 to allow a two-year period to process the compensation.

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,” according to a 2005 study by the national Research Council.

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.

In August 2018, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the CNMI said its people should also be considered “downwinders.”

“Perhaps, because the Marianas was not represented in Congress in 2005, we were not included in a congressionally mandated study of how fallout from nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands may have harmed people on downwind islands,” Sablan said in an August 2018 letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think that inequity needs to be addressed.”