Senate approves New Mexico Downwinders’ inclusion in RECA amendment

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexicans still suffering the consequences of the first atomic bomb test in the state scored a victory.

A vote in the Senate on Thursday means– for the first time – people in New Mexico will be included in the “Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.”

It’s a major step forward for advocates who have been fighting for something like this since 2005.

“When I saw that we had 61 votes, honestly, it was so emotional, it was such an emotional experience,” said Tina Cordova, co-founder of Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.   

Cordova’s fight for the New Mexicans whose lives were forever changed by the development of the first atomic bomb has never made it this far on Capitol Hill.

“This is the thirteenth year that bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House, and the first time there’s ever been a floor vote,” Cordova said. 

Cordova has testified before Congress several times in the past, asking them to give New Mexican Downwinders the same acknowledgement, and benefits other Americans exposed to nuclear testing have received for decades.

But, it seems the movie “Oppenheimer,” was the push Congress needed to take action.

“Millions of people across the country traveled to theaters this weekend and saw a blockbuster centered around this infamous day. But not enough people have focused on the collateral damage caused by our nation’s nuclear weapons testing,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján. 

Cordova knows that collateral damage well.

“I’m the fourth generation in my family to have cancer since 1945,” said Cordova.  

KOB 4 spoke with Cordova last week before the movie was released. She told us the New Mexicans living near the Trinity Site were essentially abandoned after the life-changing explosion.

“When we’ve had nuclear disasters in the past at places like Chernobyl and Fukushima, they’re declared dead zones, and they moved everybody out. And in New Mexico, they never did that thing. They simply never came back to assess the damage,” Cordova said. 

A recent study from Princeton University shows the radioactive fallout from the explosion spread far beyond the state. 

“We know that there we’re 15,000 people living within a 50-mile radius of the test site. And if you expand the radius to 150 miles, it encompasses Albuquerque and El Paso to the north. And we’re talking about half a million people,” said Cordova.  

If passed by the House, Cordova says qualifying Downwinders and uranium miners could receive up to $150,000 in restitution, and their medical costs completely covered.

But the battle is not over yet.

“We’re in the news everywhere right now, dominating the news around the film, and rightly so. And these things are to our benefit at the moment, and we’re going to take advantage of every single one of them,” Cordova said. 

The House still needs to approve the amendment which is part of a much larger national defense bill, so it could take some time to get to that final vote.

Cordova says once approved, her organization will shift to making sure as many qualifying New Mexicans are enrolled in the program.

The amendment includes an $3 million to cover those payouts.