Senate to vote this week on radiation victims fund championed by a dogged Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley

As crickets blare from an apparently disinterested Department of Energy, Sen. Josh Hawley has secured a Senate vote this week to extend and expand a compensation fund for U.S. citizens exposed to atomic bomb-era radiation even today.

The 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act is set to expire June 7, so he says the vote on his long-sought bill is a matter of the utmost urgency in Congress – and the No. 1 congressional priority for Missouri, where nuclear waste still radiates from WWII- and Cold War-era uranium processing.

In fact, one victim, Dawn Chapman, co-founder of advocacy nonprofit Just Moms STL, said during a joint press call with Hawley Monday that her co-founder was in North St. Louis County at the moment “talking to residents because they had just been alerted that their homes may be built on top of this radioactivity.

“The Army Corps of Engineers, the federal government, is knocking on doors asking for permission to drill in their basements. This is not a 50-year-old problem. This is a today problem, too, and these people are heartbroken. They don’t know what to do when they’re scared. 

“Just let that sink in: There are homes built on top of the Manhattan Project in St. Louis, Missouri, and there are residents who have been living … on top of this for decades. And yes, they’re all very, very, very sick. They’re out there today crying, talking to her, talking about their illnesses.”

Asked how responsive federal agencies have been to her group, Chapman said “the Army Corps of Engineers is reluctant to really let the scope of the problem in St. Louis out of the bag. We have unfortunately not had any – I mean any – contact with the Department of Energy, [which is] responsible for everything that happened in the St. Louis and St. Charles Region.”

She said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm came to the area once, but “refused to meet with us, and we tried everything. She met with every media outlet. She went to different areas about solar panels, but refused to touch on the nuclear legacy that her agency is responsible for. So, it’s been pretty disappointing.”

Hawley’s experience in trying to provide victims compensation hasn’t been much better. His bill to extend and expand RECA to include tens of thousands of Missouri victims and others around the country was added to the defense bill in the Senate last summer, but later stripped out by his own party’s leadership during House-Senate negotiations late in the year.

Yet Hawley is buoyed by the 61 votes his defense bill amendment received last July. And a new agreement now requires that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer schedule a vote on the bill before the end of the week, likely sometime after Tuesday.

“We have a very big vote coming up this week,” Hawley told media representatives on the national call Monday.

“This is an urgent, urgent situation. We have, in so many states across the country, and certainly in my home state of Missouri, thousands of Americans who have been poisoned by nuclear radiation or waste from the federal government dating back to the Oppenheimer era of the Manhattan Project, running all the way through the Cold War in many states, including in Missouri in the St. Louis area and the St. Charles area.

“That nuclear radiation remains not cleaned up, unremediated I think is the technical word. People are still being exposed to it in the water, still being exposed to it in the soil, still being exposed to it, we believe in some instances, in the air. 

“This is happening in other states as well, and it is past time for the federal government to clean it up, but also to compensate the many thousands and tens of thousands of Americans who have been exposed over decades now to nuclear radiation.”

The updated RECA law would expand compensation to radioactive waste victims in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alaska. It would also cover uranium miners and those “downwinders” sickened by nuclear tests, in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.

In many cases, Hawley says, victims were never informed of the risk or even of the exposure.

“I just want to say it is a moral responsibility. I think this is the bottom line,” he said. “This isn’t an ideological issue. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is a moral issue. The government has exposed these good Americans to nuclear radiation without their consent, usually, without any support, definitely. Now the government needs to make it right.”

Hawley announced on the press call that he has invited Chapman to be his guest at the State of the Union address Thursday night.

“She’s a terrific representative of the state of Missouri, but also frankly a terrific representative of Americans across the country who have been poisoned by their government and now need to be compensated,” he said.

It’s not certain whether the Senate will have acted by then on the RECA reauthorization. But Hawley told reporters he’s hoping for the kind of overwhelming Senate support it received last summer – and that he’s been in personal contact with Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, where Hawley hopes for bipartisan support should the bill clear the Senate this week.

“I think my colleagues are probably very tired of me lobbying them on this effort and trying to get their votes. And I’m going to keep on doing it, because this is vitally, vitally important.

“It’s great that we have a nuclear program. Fine. But when you hurt somebody, when you take people’s lives, when you take their health, when you poison them, you make it right. And the government has not done that. 

“That’s what this is about, and that’s why this is an urgent moral issue and the time to act is now. The timing is urgent. Urgent.”


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