BELEN, N.M. (AP) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he’s open to granting assistance for people sickened by exposure to radiation during nuclear weapons testing, including in New Mexico, where the world’s first atomic bomb was tested in 1945.
Biden brought up the issue while speaking Wednesday in Belen at a factory that produces wind towers.
“I’m prepared to help in terms of making sure that those folks are taken care of,” he said.
The state’s place in American history as a testing ground has gotten more attention recently with the release of “Oppenheimer,” a movie about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the top-secret Manhattan Project.
Biden watched the film last week while on vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico spoke of how the first bomb was tested on soil just south of where the event was. The senator also discussed getting an amendment into the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which gives payments to people who become ill from nuclear weapons tests or uranium mining during the Cold War.
“And those families did not get the help that they deserved. They were left out of the original legislation,” Lujan added. “We’re fighting with everything that we have” to keep the amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Last month, the U.S. Senate voted to expand compensation. The provisions would extend health care coverage and compensation to so-called downwinders exposed to radiation during weapons testing to several new regions stretching from New Mexico to Guam.
Biden said he told Lujan that he’s “prepared to help in terms of making sure that those folks are taken care of.”