Radiation compensation act expires as interest in uranium mining surges

Jun 13, 2024

85-year-old Jim Fisher has a lung illness thanks to his years underground mining uranium in Utah. He’s one of thousands of workers who mined, milled, or transported uranium during the Cold War. The U.S. has paid out more than $2.6 billion in compensation to these former workers, as well as those exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons testing, thanks to the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act.

But Congress allowed the program, known as RECA, to expire on June 7, leaving thousands of people like Jim without access to compensation for radiation-related illnesses. The Senate passed legislation to reauthorize RECA in March, but House leadership refused to follow suit, citing its costs.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are eager to expand nuclear energy, which is breathing life into the domestic uranium industry. Congress recently banned the import of Russian uranium and appropriated $2.7 billion to expand domestic uranium fuel production, with a focus on building out uranium processing capacity. These changes are already leading to a surge in uranium mining on the Colorado Plateau, despite the low grade of domestic uranium ore.

Jim Fisher’s son, Race, is working in a recently reopened uranium mine in Utah. The company that owns the mine says that uranium mining is much safer now due to increased safety regulations. But it still carries health risks, like exposure to radioactive gases and carcinogens.

“Regulations are not perfect at preventing potential harm,” Amber Reimondo, energy director at the Grand Canyon Trust, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We have to be careful about assuming that because a regulation is there or that it exists that there’s nothing to worry about.”

Over 100 local leaders support Public Lands Rule

Over 100 Western U.S. county commissioners, mayors, and council members sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday thanking them for the recent finalization of the Public Lands Rule. The signers include officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah.

The letter, addressed to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, states: “The below listed local elected officials, who represent communities across the Western U.S., are writing to commend you for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) final Public Lands Rule which will provide a more balanced approach to public lands management for the West. Doing so will protect some of our communities’ important wildlife habitat, treasured recreation areas, critical water resources, and Indigenous cultural sites.

Quick hits

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Environmental Defense Fund to study effects of artificially cooling earth

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Why oil companies are raking in record profits

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Feds signal deference to Wyoming, dilution of protections, on migration routes

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Foraging on public lands is becoming more limited

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Quote of the day

Put simply, neither the State, the Governor, nor the State Land Department believes that designation of the Ancestral Footprints Monument injures Arizona.

—Arizona State Attorney General Kristin Mayes, E&E News

Picture This

red rock formations in desert

@Interior

Gold Butte National Monument is a remote and rugged desert landscape in southeastern Nevada, where dramatically chiseled red sandstone, twisting canyons and tree-clad mountains punctuate stretches of the Mojave Desert.

Photo by Bob Wick /@blmnational

 

Featured image: Navajo miners near Cove, Arizona in 1952. Photo by Milton Jack Snow