Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is leading a drive to expand federal fallout compensation to other states in the West, but so far, Utah's senators are not aboard as co-sponsors.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he will lend his support to actions justified by science. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said he will work to support Utah's downwinders and expressed concern for funding the compensation program if it were expanded. He did not refer to downwinders in other states.
Federal studies have shown fallout was deposited throughout most of the United States, not only the counties in Utah, Nevada and Arizona currently covered by the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
The Utah counties are Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Millard, Piute, San Juan, Sevier, Washington and Wayne. Also allowed compensation for fallout exposure are residents of five full counties and part of another in Nevada, and five counties in Arizona plus the section of that state north of the Grand Canyon.
However, other parts of America also were subjected to dangerous levels of fallout, according to federal studies.
Within Utah, according to a 2005 cancer-rate study by the National Cancer Institute, some counties excluded from compensation had higher rates of cancer caused by fallout than some counties whose residents are eligible. Tied with three southern Utah counties for highest rates were Salt Lake, Tooele, Weber, Morgan, Wasatch, Carbon and Grand counties. They fell into the category of 208 to 247 cases of fallout-caused cancer per 100,000 people exposed.
"This week I'll be introducing reintroducing again my RECA bill," Crapo said Tuesday during a radio press conference. "This is the bill that deals with the issue of radiation damage caused to people in Idaho as a result of the (open-air nuclear) testing," he added.
What's new about Crapo's bill is that now it includes Montana, as well as all of Idaho, as places where people might be compensated if they were exposed to high levels of fallout and contracted certain types of cancer.
Crapo said the bill will be introduced today by himself and three other senators Sen. Larry E. Craig, R-Idaho; Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.; and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
A report by the National Academies of Sciences found that among the 25 counties in the United States with the highest doses of fallout radiation, "20 are in Idaho and Montana," he said.
Crapo staff member Lindsay Northern told the Deseret Morning News that the Idaho senator's office is "still in discussions" with Utah's senators regarding their stances on the bill. As to whether all of Utah may be added to the bill's compensation expansion area if Bennett and Hatch support it, Northern said, "If they decide to join us on a new bill, they would determine what is covered, not us.
"We just decided to go with an Idaho-Montana bill at this time to get the bill (introduced) before the recess. Other states can, and may be, added later."
Asked about the issue, Bennett press secretary Emily Christensen wrote in an e-mail, "Sen. Bennett has worked hard to fully fund the program's shortfalls, but it is an ongoing challenge.
"Expanding RECA will only place an extra burden on an already stressed program. As these discussions proceed, he will continue to work with Sen. Hatch to ensure that Utah's downwinders are protected."
Hatch's office passed along this statement from him: "I am aware that some in other Western states believe RECA should be expanded to cover additional geographic areas.
"If the science is there to justify an expansion I will support it. That has always been how I evaluate RECA changes should be made on the best available science."
J Truman, a Malad, Idaho, man who formerly lived in southwestern Utah and is director of the group Downwinders United said he's grateful for the actions by Idaho's and Montana's senators.
But he added that he was saddened that so far, other Utah and Arizona residents are not to be covered by RECA.He said there's no excuse for not at least trying "to give the same small measure of justice to those in the rest of Utah and Arizona."
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