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Tularosa Downwinders disheartened after RECA expansion stripped from NDAA

Supporters of the Tularosa Downwinders Consortium protest near the Trinity Site during an open-house event at the site in April of 2022.
Jonny Coker
Supporters of the Tularosa Downwinders Consortium protest near the Trinity Site during an open-house event at the site in April of 2022.

Legislation to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, also known as RECA, was recently stripped from the National Defense Authorization Act. The expansion of RECA within the national defense spending bill would have covered New Mexicans affected by the Trinity nuclear explosion at White Sands Missile Range, as well as post-1971 uranium miners.

Mary White is a member of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium. She said that her family was in Carizzozo during the Trinity Site nuclear blast, and generations later, her family is still feeling the effects of the radiation.

“We just learned that my 18-year-old nephew has thyroid cancer and had both thyroid glands removed,” she said.

White said that with no clear path for RECA moving forward, anxiety among the downwinders is high.

“We know for a fact that we are not done fighting this battle. But at this point, so close to the holidays, so close after the terrible news, we don’t have a precise plan,” she said. “But we will be meeting with the staffers of our congressional delegation who have helped us.”

The bipartisan amendment was sponsored by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, and co-sponsored by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and New Mexico Senator Ben Ray Luján.

Each senator expressed disappointment in the removal of the amendment, including Senator Luján who released a written statement that said, “I am not giving up on justice for New Mexicans and all those deeply impacted by radiation exposure and nuclear testing. Over the course of this process, our support has only grown and the fight doesn’t end here.”

Mary White echoed this sentiment, and said that the downwinders would not stop fighting for compensation.

“We are hearing widespread support from other downwinders. We’re hearing from other legislators, we’re hearing a wide swath of people saying this is absolutely wrong and we don’t want you all to give up.”

In its current state, RECA will expire in May of 2024, which would leave the Tularosa Downwinders and other affected parties without compensation from the federal government.

Jonny Coker is a Multimedia Journalist for KRWG Public Media. He has lived in Southern New Mexico for most of his life, growing up in the small Village of Cloudcroft, and earning a degree in Journalism and Media Studies at New Mexico State University.