WASHINGTON – Almost 70 years ago, the US government began testing nuclear weapons in a remote area of Nevada, about 60 miles north of Las Vegas.
Over a period of just over 10 years, at least 100 tests have been conducted, with each material released into the atmosphere where it was spread by winds, the radioactive particles in Nevada, Arizona and Utah – and possibly other parts of the Southwest – pressed.
At the beginning of the tests, the public did not understand the health risks associated with radiation exposure. Certain cancers and other diseases have been associated with radiation. Many of these diseases were reported disproportionately by people who lived near the study area in the 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1990, Congress passed the Law on Occupational Exposure Compensation, which set up a trust fund to make a lump-sum payment to individuals who had certain types of cancers and other serious illnesses that were presumably the result of their exposure to aerial weapons in connection with the mining, processing and shipping of uranium.
These payments, ranging from $ 50,000 to downwinders-up to $ 100,000 for uranium miners and processors-amounted to $ 2.2 billion more as 34,000 claims in April 2018.
Few of these allegations relate to people who lived in much of the district of Mohave or in the south of the state of Clark because these areas were not included in the original RECA or its subsequent amendments.
Congress members from Arizona, Nevada and Utah are trying to change that.
"Aryan health should never have been compromised by these government tests," said Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, who introduced the Downwinders Compensation Act of 2019 last week to change RECA to all districts of Mohave and Clark. "Victims suffering from this radiation exposure are entitled to compensation, and this change will allow them access to this compensation."
Senate Bill 776, introduced by McSally, a colleague from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, and Nevada Sen. Jackie Rosen, was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.
In January, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar introduced a companion law, House Resolution 757, his third attempt to change the original RECA to include Mohave County. Co-founders of the House Bill are Andy Biggs, Raul Grijalva and Ruben Gallego from Arizona, Susie Lee from Nevada and Chris Stewart from Utah.
McSally's office pointed out that people who lived in many circles of Mohave and Clark at the time of the test were not entitled to "arbitrary demarcation" compensation.
Rosen said the exclusion of residents living much closer to the proving ground than others who were compensated was unfair.
"Nevadans who have been exposed to dangerous radioactive activity for years should be fully compensated for the medical complications they suffered as a result of the federal government's testing of nuclear weapons during the Cold War," Rosen said. "This bipartite legislation would do just that by reimbursing Nevadans and Arizona's wrongfully incriminated because of this injustice."
Gosar passed a similar law in 2013, but it was overruled for abrogating a purpose by hiring members of a House of Representatives, even though the bill would have extended approval for residents of Clark County and Gosar's district, including Mohave County.
Senator John McCain and Deputy Trent Franks have also drafted the bill, which includes the entire circle of Mohave in RECA.
"For Congress to contest the rest of the Mohave district, the right to petition is both contradictory and negligent, and violates both the excuse and promise made by all liquidators in the original 1990 law "Gosar said when he introduced a change from 2015. "The original parameters of RECA were prepared and approved by Congress, so Congress must stop this injustice."
How many people would influence the expansion is not clear. The population of the Mohave district was between 1951, when the tests began, and in 1962, when it ended, it had about 8,000 inhabitants. More than half of this population lived in and around Kingman, about 135 miles from the Nevada Test Site. Downwinder would be in their 60s or older.
The population of today's city of Bullhead City and Laughlin was estimated at under 3,000 at this time.
At previous hearings, Mohave district residents remembered the mushroom clouds in the north as nuclear explosions lit up the sky, unaware that these firecrackers were causing serious health risks.
"There is no logical reason to exclude Mohave County or Clark County from compensation for the nuclear tests," Gosar said at an earlier hearing. "