U.S. to Pay Thousands for Radiation Exposure - Post

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Wednesday April 12 2:24 AM ET

U.S. to Pay Thousands for Radiation Exposure - Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government, vowing to ''right the wrongs of the past,'' will unveil plans Wednesday to pay at least $400 million to compensate thousands of ailing workers who were exposed to radiation while building the nation's nuclear arsenal, the Washington Post reported.

The newspaper said it had obtained a draft of the unprecedented national compensation plan, which would offer payments of $100,000 to workers with certain cancers.

Any government move to offer compensation would be its first tangible acknowledgment of responsibility for decades of unsafe working conditions in dozens of nuclear bomb factories around the country.

Thousands of other workers would receive help in applying for compensation under liberalized policies that reverse decades of government antagonism to workers' medical claims, the Post said.

In addition, workers would receive the benefit of the doubt when plant medical records are missing or flawed, the draft states. ``The government is done fighting workers and now we're going to help them,'' the Post quoted Energy Secretary Bill Richardson as saying as he confirmed details of the plan crafted by the White House National Economic Council.

``We're reversing the decades-old practice of opposing worker claims and moving forward to do the right thing.''

The plan would cost the federal government an estimated $400 million over the first five years, officials familiar with the plan told the Post. After that, the cost is expected to decline as cases are settled.

The production of 70,000 nuclear weapons over 50 years employed more than 600,000 men and women at 16 major sites and dozens of smaller ones. Workers have testified in a series of recent hearings that they were frequently exposed to high levels of radiation as well as hazardous chemicals.

The U.S. government in January confirmed for the first time that nuclear weapons workers exposed to radiation and chemicals experienced high-than-expected cancer rates, reversing years in which the government minimized the dangers of exposure to radiation.

Under the plan, parts of which need congressional approval, the Energy Department would set up a workers' advocacy office, effective next month, to help current and former employees who believe they suffer from job-related illnesses.

The Post said the new Occupational Illness Compensation Office would expedite claims, using independent physicians to determine if illnesses are work-related. Once a link was clear, DOE would accept responsibility for the illness, it said.

Under a separate program, workers or survivors of workers who contracted a ``radiogenic'' cancer after being exposed to radiation on the job could choose between a lump-sum payment of $100,000 or a negotiated compensation package that covers all medical costs as well as lost wages and job retraining.

Common radiogenic cancers include leukemias and myelomas as well as cancers of the bone, lung and thyroid. While the lump-sum payment would be offered only to workers diagnosed with cancer before the compensation plan is enacted into law, all workers exposed to radiation would be eligible to apply for a compensation package, the Post reported.

Identical coverage would be offered to workers exposed to beryllium, a highly toxic metal used in making nuclear arms.

In draft remarks prepared for Wednesday's announcement, Vice President Gore acknowledged that compensation ``cannot undo'' the suffering of injured workers. But ``today this administration begins the process of compensating workers for their suffering and becoming an advocate for all contract workers no matter where they worked,'' according to the Post.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), April 12, 2000

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