Over 120 local and national organizations are urging the U.S. Congress to provide assistance to nuclear frontline communities.
The organizations sent a letter May 5 asking members of Congress to include provisions in the next federal COVID-19 economic relief bill for communities that have been exposed to radiation due to the federal government’s nuclear weapons activities.
Those communities are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 because of their exposure to radiation from activities including uranium mining, weapons production and atmospheric nuclear testing, the letter states.
Members of the exposed populations often also face significant barriers to accessing health care–they are disproportionately indigenous, people of color, low-income, veterans and/or from rural areas, the letter states.
“Those who sacrificed for our country’s national security, in some cases unknowingly, should not have to doubly fear this crisis,” it states.
Local organizations that signed the letter include Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Tewa Women United and La Jicarita.
Joni Arends, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said the provisions would include people who live downwind and downstream of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“It’s time,” she said. “It’s past time.”
The letter asks that members of Congress extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) of 1990 past 2022, when it is set to expire.
RECA aimed to offset the burden of health care costs to nuclear frontline communities.
Currently, however, RECA does not include people impacted by nuclear weapon development, such as uranium workers, civilians downwind of the Trinity test site, the Nevada test site and nuclear production sites, veterans who cleaned up radioactive waste on the Marshall Islands and residents of Guam, the letter states.
The letter asks members of Congress to provide compensation to these people as well.
“RECA is crucial for the health and financial well-being of these communities, especially during the COVID-19 crisis,” it states.
Recent studies show that people with cancer are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 than those without cancer, it states. Uranium miners–including members of the Navajo Nation and numerous residents of the Valley–are especially susceptible to cancer.
Kathy Sanchez, a member of San Ildefonso Pueblo and Tewa Women United, said the letter is extremely important for elders in the Valley who participated in the country’s war efforts.
She described the Laboratory as “a monster on a hill” that is destroying what is of value to local land-based people and that has made them feel ashamed about their ways of life.
“This is just a blatant social injustice,” she said. “You have to live with a system that is always putting you down, always shaming you, guilting you, and making you fearful. They strip you of your humanity. And we need to say, ‘No.’”