Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government on Thursday named
hundreds of mills, foundries and factories that did nuclear
weapons work during the Cold War, a step toward identifying
workers who might qualify for compensation because they became
ill from on-the-job exposure.
Ohio had 37 sites on the list.
Now that the list is being published in the Federal
Register, ``Workers need to contact us,'' said Energy
Secretary Bill Richardson.
``The burden of proof is on the government, not the worker.
We will be open and candid this time, not like in the past.''
The department examined records going back 60 years in an
attempt to document every place that handled the deadly metal
beryllium or radioactive materials for the Cold War
Its preliminary list included 317 sites in 37 states, the
District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Marshall Islands.
Some were government-owned, but most were private companies
that did business for the Energy Department or the Atomic
David Michaels, the department's top health official,
cautioned that some of the 317 sites played very minor roles
in the history of weapons production.
While Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. in St. Louis processed
thousands of tons of uranium, he said, Star Cutter Corp. in
Farmington, Mich., had only five pieces of uranium on site for
one day, while testing a special saw it had made.
Ailing workers and the families of many dead workers spent
years pushing the government to acknowledge causing illnesses
by exposing weapons plant employees to high levels of
radiation or by failing to clean up radioactive contamination.
Some sick workers said they could not get adequate care
because the substances they were exposed to were considered
classified information. Doctors were given exposure records
with essential information blacked out.
As recently as President Clinton's first term, the
government routinely fought worker compensation claims from
nuclear factory workers.
``We failed to take care of workers that got sick from
exposure,'' said Richardson, who said he was proud to have
changed government policy ``to settle the score with our
Under a program Congress approved last year, employees of
facilities doing Energy Department work who contracted cancer
as a result of radiation exposure, plus those who contracted a
lung disease from beryllium or silica, are supposed to get
government-paid medical care plus $150,000.
If the government sticks to its schedule for getting a
system in place, the first checks should go out later this
Many of the privately owned sites haven't done Energy
Department work in decades.
Yet to be decided is how the compensation program will
decide which people from such sites got sick because of work
done for the government
``This is a very sensitive area,'' said activist Rchard
Miller. ``There are places where the DOE had no contract for,
for instance, beryllium after a certain date, or a mill didn't
roll uranium after a certain date, but the buildings remained
``People worked in hot' buildings, but they didn't actually
do work for the weapons program,'' he said. ``It's an issue.
The cutoff dates are going to matter.''
Publishing further information on each site's known history
of government work is something Richardson's team hopes to
complete before Jan. 20, when the Bush administration takes
Bob Schaeffer of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
called the weapons plant inventory ``a major step in
recognizing the geographic scope of contamination.''
But, he complained, ``DOE is still acting as if the
contamination stopped at the fence line. Thousands of
neighbors and people who lived in nearby communities also are
affected by the contamination from the plants. Addressing
their needs must be the next step.''
Richardson said the next step for Congress should be to
offer sick workers a bigger benefit.
He sent proposed legislation to Capitol Hill suggesting the
program be amended to give sick workers a choice of $150,000
or reimbursement for lost wages. That would make a big
difference for exposed workers who got sick while still
The proposal immediately won some bipartisan support.
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Rep. Tom Udallh, D-N.M.,
quickly pledged to try to get the change approved by Congress.
``Offering two different payment options and establishing a
process for arbitration is certainly welcome and more than
fair,'' Udall said.
``The challenges our nation faces are bigger than partisan
politics and when we can put those disputes aside and work
together then the American people are better served,''