Hawley bill for a compensation fund and ‘some justice’ for radiation victims passes Senate, heads to House

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s bipartisan bill to keep alive the federal government’s radiation exposure compensation fund – and perhaps keep some people alive – handily passed the Senate 69-30 Thursday afternoon.

Hawley has long championed an extension of the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, set to expire June 7, to help continued victims of atomic bomb-era radiation. The bill also would expand compensation to include victims in various states not originally covered, including those in Missouri.

Nuclear waste has been stored, and has leaked, in the St. Louis and St. Charles areas since the days of Manhattan Project uranium processing in the area to win WWII and the Cold War.

At times Hawley’s quest has taken on a lonely Mr. Smith Goes to Washington feel, as his bill was amended onto a defense bill last year only to be stripped out by congressional leaders.

Victims had to wonder why Senate passage of the bill was so hard, when Hawley had clearly demonstrated the harm done to them. In January he posted on X the stories of 11 Missouri victims – including 5-year-old Zoey, who is living with searing pain even after having had a mass removed from her ovary when she was just 3 weeks old.

On Thursday, though, Hawley worked the Senate floor to assure it passed with at least the 60 votes needed. It now goes on to the House for consideration.

Hawley had already invited a Missouri radiation victim and advocate, Dawn Chapman, to be his guest at Thursday night’s State of the Union address.


‘Hard to say no’

In an exclusive interview Thursday, The Heartlander asked Hawley what broke the legislative dam in the Senate.

“I just think that it’s hard to say no, when you look at all of these good Americans – beginning with the good people of Missouri and St. Louis, St. Charles – people who’ve been exposed for years to nuclear radiation by their own government; their government’s lied to them.”

Indeed, Hawley notes after decades of denial by the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency recently started knocking on doors and informing residents they might be living on top of nuclear waste.

“Right now, probably as we speak, the government is in people’s homes in North St. Louis County, drilling down in their basements to see how much nuclear radiation is under the home. I mean, can you imagine?  

“And yet for all of these years the government said, ‘Ah, it’s not really a problem, there’s nothing to worry about.’ They’ve just lied. And I think it’s hard to look at all those lies and say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s OK. It’s fine.’ No, it’s not. We need to compensate the people who the government has poisoned, and we need to clean it up. And this today … will be a first step.”

How did that discovery in North St. Louis County just come about?

“Well, I think the truth is the government’s known about it for some time and they’ve concealed it,” Hawley said. “What they’ve been telling us, everybody in Missouri, for years is, ‘Don’t worry about any nuclear radiation. The creek is not that bad. Jana Elementary School, which closed now almost two years ago, that’s not that bad.’ They’ve been waving us off. 

“And then all of a sudden, the data comes in and it says, ‘Oh, no, actually there is contamination in the creek still, there is contamination in Jana Elementary. Oops! Now there is contamination, maybe under people’s homes.’ 

“They just haven’t wanted to admit it. It’s the same story for 50 long years, and it is time to break this cycle of lies and deception.”


‘Go test everywhere’

What needs to happen now?

“They need to test widely,” the senator said. “This is the problem: I’ve been saying for years now they’ve confined their testing. It’s one of these deals that they don’t want to get answers. They don’t want to know what the answers are. So, they’re only testing in narrow little bands, and they’re saying, ‘Ah, we don’t think the radiation’s any further afield than this.’ 

“Ridiculous. Go test everywhere. 

“And when they finally did do some testing in people’s backyards, lo and behold, they found high levels of radiation. So, they need to test widely throughout North County St. Louis, throughout the St. Charles area. They need to test widely, get the information, and then they need to clean it up. They should have done this 50 years ago, but here we are. And in the meantime, they need to compensate people who they have made sick.”

It would seem to be a scandal, yet it gains little attention. Desperate at one point to bring pressure to bear on his Senate colleagues, Hawley implored Hollywood – not exactly a Josh Hawley constituency – to highlight the plight of today’s continuing radiation victims while it fetes the film Oppenheimer, about the development of the bomb, at the Oscars this Sunday.

“It is a scandal. It’s a huge scandal,” he argued. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people in Missouri over the decades who have been affected, probably millions when you add it all up over all the years – certainly millions nationwide, because it’s happened in more places than Missouri.  

“I think the deal is that, these days, if you’re a Wall Street banker or you’re a defense contractor, you get paid no matter what. The government’s always there for you. The latest defense contract, money for Ukraine – which is really just defense contractors again – they always get paid.

“But if you’re a hard-working American who gives your life in service to your country, who goes to work every day just trying to get your kids safe, trying to give them a leg up, you don’t get help, you don’t get reported on [by the media]. And if your government poisons you, then all the Washington people just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Well, good luck to you.’ That’s got to change.  

“I mean, these people in our state and around the country, these good people are the backbone of this nation. They deserve some respect and they deserve some justice.”

Depending on what happens in the House, they may get it now.


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