Bill to Compensate Radiation Fallout Victims of Atom Bomb Tests Allowed to Expire

 mushroom cloud of the first atomic explosion at Trinity Test Site near Alamagordo, N.M.
This July 16, 1945, file photo, shows the mushroom cloud of the first atomic explosion at Trinity Test Site near Alamagordo, N.M. New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez and top prosecutors from several other states and the District of Columbia are uniting in support of efforts to compensate people sickened by exposure to radiation during nuclear weapons testing. (AP Photo/File)

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., scuttled a bipartisan bill Friday that would have extended and expanded a unique federal program to compensate the "downwinder" radiation fallout victims of U.S. atom bomb tests.

Citing concerns that the bill would be too costly, Johnson adjourned the House without allowing a vote on the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, effectively killing the bill, which will sunset Monday. The House is not due to go back into session until Tuesday.

The bill, which passed in the Senate by a vote of 69-30 and was supported by President Joe Biden, would have extended RECA coverage for the first time to the "downwinders," uranium workers and others in New Mexico who were exposed to fallout from the July 16, 1945, first-ever explosion of an atom bomb in the Trinity test depicted in the blockbuster movie "Oppenheimer."

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RECA coverage would also have been expanded to those in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, Guam and parts of Arizona, Utah and Nevada who were not previously covered under the program. It would have covered people who were exposed to nuclear waste or were "downwind" of the Nevada test site where more than 100 atom bomb tests were conducted during the Cold War.

"I am disappointed that Speaker Johnson sent the House home without taking action on RECA before the sunset date," Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., who has advocated since 2006 for expanding RECA coverage to New Mexicans, said in a statement. Luján said he would press for new legislation, but chances were slim that Congress would act before the current session ends in January.

A spokesman for Luján said in an email statement that RECA claims filed before the official expiration date of June 10 will still be processed, but no new claims will be honored after Monday.

In a statement on the social media platform X, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said that "RECA expires today because the House has done nothing," and he ripped Johnson for failing to "make time to meet with radiation survivors, like he promised."

Hawley was a latecomer to supporting the extension and expansion of RECA, and coming on board after a series of collaborative reports by The Associated Press, The Missouri Independent and the nonprofit newsroom MuckRock on the dumping in the St. Louis area in the 1940s of nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project -- the crash program to build the first atom bomb.

Last fall, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the extension and expansion of the RECA program would cost $147 billion over 10 years, but advocates for the bill put the overall cost in the range of $50 billion.

The failure to pass the RECA bill marked another setback for Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, who has long advocated for inclusion in RECA coverage of families who lived near the Trinity test site.

In a statement, Cordova said that "improving RECA should not be about politics, parties or cost. It should be about taking care of the American citizens -- including children -- that our government put at tremendous risk in service of our national security."

Related: The Forgotten Victims of the First Atomic Blast That 'Oppenheimer' Left Out May Finally Get Their Due

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