Nuclear Weapons/RECA

The West has paid dearly for accepting government assurances that nuclear testing was safe.  To date, there has never been a government-sponsored scientific study published evaluating cancer rates or birth defects in the U.S. against total fallout deposition.  Did fallout in the 1950s and 1960s cause cancers in the 1990s?  Until we have the answers to that and other critical questions, Congressman Matheson will fight any attempt to produce more clouds of doubt from nuclear weapons testing.

RECA and the Downwinders

The U.S. conducted 904 domestic nuclear weapons tests, both atmospheric and underground, at the Nevada Test Site from 1951 until 19902.  During most of this time, the federal government did not warn people who lived downwind of the test site about any of the likely effects of radiation exposure.  Many of the people who were exposed to dangerously high levels of radioactive fallout – commonly known as “downwinders” – lived in Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and other Western states.

A 1997 National Cancer Institute Study found that fallout also traveled all the way to the East Coast, with some counties in Kansa, New York, Iowa and other states receiving more fallout than many western states.  Iodine-131 is just one of over 150 radionuclides released by weapons testing.

After years of denial the government finally admitted culpability for withholding this information in the 1980s, and additional pressure from concerned lawmakers resulted in passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, a compensation program for victims.  Congressman Matheson supports full funding for RECA.

Now, he has joined the fight for its expansion.  Thousands of victims of exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests will be helped under proposed legislation to expand RECA.  Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate.  Evidence compiled over the last 13 years points to the likelihood that there are even more victims in Utah and other states than are already acknowledged under current law.  These bills build upon RECA by expanding and equalizing compensation to ‘downwinders’, uranium miners, millers and ore haulers whose health was sacrificed in the rush to build bombs and win the Cold War.

Read a section-by-section analysis of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2010 here.

I have fought against the need for new nuclear weapons my entire time in Congress.

A recent report supports my stand. A distinguished panel of scientists, physicists and nuclear weapons experts—known as the JASON panel—was tasked by Congress to examine the technical "risks, uncertainties and challenges" involved in extending the life of our stockpile of nuclear warheads. You can read the declassified summary here. It concludes that the lifetime of the nation’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades—using current techniques without affecting confidence in the weapons' reliability.

Safety for Americans from Nuclear Weapons Testing

Radioactive fallout from more than 900 weapons tests between 1951 and 1992 traveled to every single state in this nation and protecting Americans from radiation exposure should be a national issue. That's why Congressman Matheson introduced legislation that:

Requires the federal government to conduct an environmental review to assess the health and safety aspects prior to the resumption of any nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada Test Site.

Requires Congress to authorize the resumption of testing.

Requires Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to more effectively monitor radiation levels, and also provides for independent radiation monitoring.

Provides for the study of health effects of radiation exposure, related illnesses and radioactive isotopes that are linked to adverse health effects.