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Senate agrees to compensate nuclear workers

Friday, June 09, 2000

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - Nuclear weapons plant workers made ill by on-the-job exposure to radiation, silica or beryllium would receive medical benefits and at least $200,000 apiece under a program the Senate agreed upon yesterday.

An amendment calling for the program was added without a vote to the defense authorization bill. The House version of the bill does not include the program, whose fate congressional negotiators will have to decide.

Also, lawmakers have not set aside any money for the program, which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It’s not going to be real easy, simply because of the money involved," said Sen. Fred Thompson, the Tennessee Republican who is chief sponsor of the amendment.

Still, the Senate’s action is a big step toward helping people suffering from cancer, silicosis or beryllium disease because of their Cold War-era employment.

Workers who accept compensation would be precluded from suing.

The Senate plan left out workers who contracted cancer because of exposure to toxic chemicals - rather than radiation - in the weapons plants.

"We didn’t have the votes," said Sen. George Voinovich, Ohio Republican. "It boiled down to maintaining the support of the [Clinton] administration. Without them, we wouldn’t have Democratic support."

The DOE said most of the people likely to qualify for compensation would come from the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state; Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee; Savannah River Site in South Carolina; Nevada Test Site; Rocky Flats Complex in Colorado; Pantex Plant in Texas; Mound Plant and Fernald Environmental Management Project in Ohio; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California; Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico; and gaseous diffusion plants at Piketon, Ohio; Paducah, Ky.; and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

©2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.


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