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Report: Nuclear Workers Exposed

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Energy Department officials said Wednesday there is a need to better catalog the use of civilian industrial sites in the production of America's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.

Officials, however, did cite documents showing that the use of private companies in the weapons program had been acknowledged and been the subject of government reviews as early as the 1970s.

A report Wednesday in USA Today said that voluminous government records filed away for decades document how the government relied on hundreds of private companies during the 1940s and 1950s to handle dangerous materials used to make nuclear weapons, exposing thousands of workers to potential health risks.

While some of the most dramatic cases involving private companies had been reported, USA Today said it has documented for the first time the scope of the programs.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said in a statement that the department ''has been candid and honest with our current and former workers'' about health risks posed by past work on weapons programs. He said this ''was especially the case'' last year when he personally apologized to Cold War workers put at risk as part of their defense work at certain government nuclear weapons production facilities.

Richardson wants to create a central, computerized database of all facilities -- including private plants and businesses -- that were involved in weapons work.

Officials said it was acknowledged as early as the 1970s that these sites should be evaluated to determine the risks posed to workers and the environment, and that some of these sites have been part of the department's weapons complex cleanup program. One report in 1980 summarized the scope of the review involving 74 sites, according to the department.

In a series of three stories beginning Wednesday, USA Today reported on material gleaned from a review of 100,000 pages of government records, many of which it said were only recently declassified.

Reporters found the government relied on a vast network of private plants, mills and shops to build the early U.S. nuclear arsenal, with grave health and environmental consequences for thousands of workers and dozens of communities.

Among the major findings:

--The government hired about 300 private companies during World War II to process and produce material used in nuclear weapons production, with at least a third of them handling large amounts of radioactive and toxic material even if they did not have the proper equipment or knowledge to protect workers.

--The government regularly documented worker health risks at many private facilities, producing highly classified reports that detailed radiation exposure rates hundreds of times above safety standards.

--Dozens of private companies contaminated the surrounding air, soil and water with toxic and radioactive waste.

--Both the government and private executives at the companies hid the health and environmental problems.

AP-NY-09-06-00 2012EDT< 

"Both the government and private executives at the companies hid the health and environmental problems."

-- Rachel Gibson (, September 06, 2000


Normally I don't go along with more government control over anything, but this has to be an exception. The government has to get a better handle on this.

-- LillyLP (, September 06, 2000.

I wonder how many new such exposures we have been subjected to since the first of the year that we don't know about.

-- R2D2 (, September 07, 2000.

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