Hawley Op-Ed: Don’t Let Government Get Away With Poisoning Americans

Monday, December 04, 2023

By U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) | Dec. 4, 2023 | Real Clear Politics

This year, Americans had the opportunity to revisit the origins of our nation’s nuclear program with the blockbuster film “Oppenheimer.” But there’s one story line that didn’t make the big screen: those Americans who are still paying the price.

For decades, the federal government poisoned an untold number of its citizens through our atomic program. It happened everywhere, impacting uranium mine workers in Texas, Native Americans living downwind from nuclear tests in the Mountain West, and communities exposed to Manhattan Project waste in Missouri. And that’s just a small sample.


Now, the law that delivers some justice and compensation to these victims is about to expire. Congress must include a reauthorization of this life-changing program as part of the annual defense bill. It’s our chance to give justice to victims who have been silenced and forgotten for years. 


Tens of thousands of American workers across the country helped to mine and process uranium and worked in facilities that built our atomic weapons, and they breathed in the toxic substances every day.


In 1990, Congress finally acknowledged the government’s egregious neglect and passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to compensate victims who were sickened with cancer from nuclear tests.


But in just a few months, funding for the program will be cut off. This cannot be allowed to happen. Since its creation, RECA has helped tens of thousands of Americans and assisted those exposed to radiation rebuild and renew their lives. How can we turn our back on them?

Many more communities still need access to this program before it runs out. In my home state of Missouri, mismanaged nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project era sat exposed for years and contaminated communities in the St. Louis region – and now these areas have elevated cancer rates. In multiple other states, “downwinders” still need compensation.


Back in July, Congress took the first step to getting this done when the Senate adopted, as part of the defense bill, my amendment with Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico to extend and strengthen the RECA program. I was proud to see that amendment pass with a bipartisan supermajority, reflecting the broad support among both parties for obtaining justice for victims. President Biden has since supported it as well.

House and Senate leadership must not strip this life-changing program from the final defense bill. It would amount to a slap in the face to victims everywhere if our leaders in Congress decide to kneecap the Americans who suffered from these nuclear programs and instead ship billions and billions to defense contractors or foreign wars. There’s no excuse for forgetting about the people we serve.

When the government poisons its own people, it must make it right. We have no other choice.

Read the entire piece on Real Clear Politics.