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Dealing with radiation is rad again

Illustration of an atom with a coin as the nucleus.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Nuclear radiation is once again a hot topic on the Hill.

Why it matters: The energy transition will emit lots of radiation — and many are still suffering health problems from the last industrial age.

  • The Senate's lined up a vote this week on Josh Hawley's one-man crusade to reauthorize and expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. It promises compensation to victims from nuclear weapons testing.

Driving the news: A separate new bipartisan bill — the Health Care for Energy Workers Act — would allow individuals to use federal radiation exposure benefits to get home care services from physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

  • Specifically, it would allow that care to be covered under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, a 2000 law intended for workers at waste sites managed by the Energy Department as well as hazardous mines.
  • The bill was introduced by Sens. John Hickenlooper and Marsha Blackburn, who represent states on the frontlines of future nuclear development — and where legacy waste sites remain.

What they're saying: Hickenlooper told Axios the bill is part of his efforts to get a grip on nuclear's true environmental impacts — while serving more rural communities that rely on at-home health care.

  • "When this bill first appeared I immediately thought, what is the connection to the modern-day nuclear industry?… Most of the people we talk about now were afflicted 30 to 50 years ago. The next question is, [what next] now that we know more?"
  • Blackburn told Axios that she talked to nuclear workers at the Y-12 energy facility in Tennessee who lived in rural areas and found it difficult to access a doctor.
  • "Our goal is to make certain that these energy workers, who many times are working in dangerous situations, have the opportunity to do their job but to know that there is a reliability of access to health care," she said.

What's next: Blackburn said she's optimistic that the bill could find a ride on any end-of-the-year health care package.

  • Hickenlooper considers moving this bill a breeze, even in today's chaotic Congress. He noted it includes "veterans who've been screwed again and again."
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