Sick Nuke Worker Plan Negotiations Continue

For the last couple of weeks, Congress has been going back and\r\nforth over provisions of a plan that would compensate nuclear weapons\r\nplant workers made ill during the Cold War.

For the last couple of weeks, Congress has been going back and forth over provisions of a plan that would compensate nuclear weapons plant workers made ill during the Cold War.

Talks between the Senate and House broke down earlier this week, but House leaders said Tuesday they would resume negotiations with the Senate on a compensation plan.

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently reversed 50 years of federal policy by declaring that workers injured or killed by weapons-plant exposure be compensated.

Just how much money those workers should be compensated with is still at issue.

DOE had proposed minimum lump sum payments of $100,000.

When the Senate passed its version of the Defense Authorization Act, it included a provision awarding $200,000 plus health benefits to sickened workers.

DOE does not know how many of the 600,000 people who worked at weapons plants since World War II might have contracted beryllium diseases, silicosis or radiation-linked cancer, but officials there estimate that 4,000 workers would be eligible under the Senate-passed program.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the measure would cost $7.1 billion over 10 years, based on DOE''s estimate that at least 4,000 workers are ill or have died.

Wary of an entitlement program with uncertain costs, the House passed only a resolution recommending compensation.

Eager to get the proposal passed, senators backed off from the $200,000 offer and told the House they could accept $100,000 as the minimum payment.

But that compromise still may not get funds to ill workers any faster. House negotiators offered a $250 million down payment on a compensation program that would need to be set up in future legislation following an additional study.

DOE said most workers likely to qualify for compensation would be those 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 in Piketon, Ohio; Paducah, Ky.; and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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