- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Workers from seven nuclear-weapons sites in Washington, Maryland and Virginia are candidates for compensation under a new Labor Department program.
The program is primarily intended to compensate workers whose illnesses from radiation exposure were overlooked during the Cold War. As many as 650,000 workers at 317 sites nationwide helped build the components used in the nuclear weapons.
The compensation program, approved by Congress last year, could cost $2 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It began last week.
In Washington, the sites are the Naval Research Laboratory and the National Bureau of Standards, which was located at what is now the University of District of Columbia.
The two sites in Maryland are the Armco Rustless Iron & Steel plant in Baltimore and the W.R. Grace & Co. plant in Curtis Bay. The three Virginia sites are at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News and the Babcock & Wilcox Co. plant in Lynchburg.
Congress approved the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program after victims of radiation exposure and their families pressured the Energy Department to acknowledge workers were getting sick from bomb-making components.
"It's a monumental program that I consider my greatest legacy at DOE," said Bill Richardson, energy secretary during the Clinton administration.
Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao called the program "an absolute necessity."
Cancer is the most common illness caused by radiation. In addition, silica and beryllium are linked to lung diseases.
Any day, Clara Harding expects to receive a $150,000 check as compensation for the radiation exposures of her husband, who worked at a uranium-enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky. After he died in 1980, his bones were found to contain 34,000 times more uranium than originally believed. Energy Department records showed he was exposed to only small doses of radiation.
When people like Mrs. Harding and her daughter started complaining about the radiation exposures, the government was reluctant to improve safety. The Energy Department was concerned the added costs could damage the nation's nuclear program.
Two years ago, the government acknowledged workers might have been exposed. First estimates were between 3,000 and 4,000. Since then, the estimates have grown but remain speculative.
"I don't know and I suspect that the Department of Energy could not tell you, either," said Jim Ellenberger, a nuclear-energy consultant for the Paper, Allied-Indus-
trial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) International Union.
Washington-based PACE International Union assisted workers who have filed lawsuits against the Energy Department nationwide and lobbied Congress to pass the energy-workers compensation act. Among the union's 360,000 members, it represents workers at 11 Department of Energy nuclear-processing sites.
"Given the political realities, it's a remarkable piece of legislation," Mr. Ellenberger said.
The law requires that workers who have claims against the Energy Department choose between pursuing their lawsuits or accepting a settlement under the compensation act. "You can opt for this payment, but you cannot get both," Mr. Ellenberger said.
The Energy Department has only a partial list of workers who could qualify, he said.
"It's poor recordkeeping," Mr. Ellenberger said. "If you look at that list, some of these contractors are possibly out of business. We have to reconstruct employment records from the Department of Energy or the Atomic Energy Commission if we can. We know for a fact there were instances where records were destroyed or lost."
For certain sites, the government will presume cancers commonly linked to radiation exposure are job-related. Those sites are the uranium-enrichment plants in Piketon, Ohio; Paducah, Ky.; and Oak Ridge, Tenn. Workers who suffered cancer after nuclear tests on Alaska's Amchitka Island also will benefit from the presumption.
The Department of Health and Human Services is putting together guidelines for nuclear-energy workers at other sites who want to claim compensation.
Workers who cannot rely on government records will have to either provide proof through their own employment records or use affidavits from co-workers, Mr. Ellenberger said.
The departments of Labor and Energy plan a hearing on compensation for nuclear-energy workers Monday in Reading, Pa., at Reading Community College. Two beryllium-processing plants were located in the area.

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