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Downwinders Applaud Congressional Spending

Downwinders Applaud Congressional Spending

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's nuclear testing opponents are pleased with Congress's $388 billion spending bill, which stripped funding for a nuclear bunker-buster bomb and provided an extra $27.8 million to cover a shortfall in the program that compensates radioactive exposure victims.

The Bush administration had advocated funding for a nuclear bunker-buster bomb known as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, as well as new advanced-concepts weapons designs.

The House stripped the funds from its version of the bill earlier this year. But key senators insisted on it being added, and the deadlock jeopardized funding for a series of energy and water projects until the Senate backed down and agreed to dropping the research.

Congress passed the huge spending bill Saturday.

Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, who resisted funding for the nuclear programs, called it "a great victory for those downwind of the Nevada Test Site."

"Utahns have paid dearly for government deception about the safety of nuclear weapons testing," he said. "I am determined to resist that at every turn because this fight is not over. This issue will be revisited, but today is a satisfying victory."

Downwinders, those sickened by exposure to radioactive fallout from Cold War nuclear tests in Nevada, won another victory as Congress approved $27.8 million championed by Utah Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, to cover a projected shortfall for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program. The program, which makes a lump payment to compensate the victims for their cancers and other illnesses, has run out of money in previous years.

"These funds mean Utah downwinders won't receive another IOU from the government this year," Bennett said. "This is an obligation the government must meet."

The new funding ensures the Radiation Exposure Compensation act will be financially solvent through 2007. Utah has the second-largest number of compensation act claimants in the United States.

The spending bill in its final form shifts $9 million from research into new weapons to improving the reliability and longevity of existing nuclear weapons.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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