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Sen Hawley urges more compensation for radiation exposure as partial shutdown deadline looms

Sen. Hawley is urging Republicans to reauthorize the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) before its spring expiration date.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., sent a "Dear Colleague" letter Monday ahead of the government funding deadline later this week urging Republicans to reauthorize the federal radiation compensation policy.

The policy, known as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), is on track to expire this spring. It was originally enacted in 1990 to compensate Americans exposed to radiation during the Manhattan Project and Cold War testing. While RECA has compensated many, there are still people awaiting claims, and certain affected groups have been overlooked, Hawley said.

"It is our duty to reauthorize and update RECA this spring. I emphasize that this is not a welfare program. It is a matter of basic justice for those the government poisoned," Hawley wrote in the letter. "We’ve developed the most advanced nuclear weapons on earth, but we cannot forget the working people of this country who were sacrificed for it."

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Hawley, a skeptic of additional funding to Ukraine, added, "If we can send hundreds of billions of dollars in security assistance to foreign nations, we can spend a fraction of that on our own constituents who deserve help."

Studies show that radiation from decades of mining, processing and enriching continues to permeate sites used during World War II and the Cold War.

In the 1940s, the U.S. was ramping up its military production to prepare for WWII, which included the government converting farmlands in Weldon Springs, Mo. into the Weldon Spring Chemical Plant. The plant produced a massive amount of TNT and DNT explosives for the war effort.

For Hawley, the issue hits close to home. In his home state of Missouri, nuclear waste was reportedly mishandled at one processing site, with leaky barrels left in the open air and contaminating a nearby creek where children have played for years. Hawley says in the letter many of those children have since developed cancer. 

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"Tens of thousands of other Americans were exposed to radiation 'downwind' from over 100 atmospheric tests in western States," Hawley wrote. "In most cases, nobody was warned of this danger. In others, the government simply lied. Repeatedly."

But this could slow up the legislative process to approve government funding at the end of the week, as the upper chamber scrambles to pass full-year appropriations bills that would fund several federal agencies. The current temporary spending patch, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), expires Friday and Congress will have to pass legislation by then to avert a partial government shutdown. The Senate has not introduced spending agreements yet for the remaining nine bills. 

Hawley’s office told Fox News Digital it will seek to attach the RECA reauthorization to any legislative proposal that is likely to get signed into law. 

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This isn't the first time Hawley has tried to increase RECA's reauthorization chances by attaching it to any legislative vehicle that has a chance of passing. Last year, the Senate initially amended the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to include Hawley's RECA amendment, but it was later removed right before the package passed. Hawley's office has speculated it was removed due to cost. 

Last year, some Republicans opposed a similar bill by Hawley that included RECA, arguing it would cost $100 billion over the course of a decade. Hawley proceeded to revise that portion of the bill and slashed the multi-billion dollar price tag, but his colleagues were still not convinced. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson has opposed the proposal to reauthorize RECA, citing a commitment to shrink the federal deficit. 

Fox News' Lawrence Richard contributed to this report. 

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