Earlier this year Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Bill Richardson issued a public apology to DOE workers exposed to plutonium. Richardson also promised that the government would expand existing medical monitoring programs for employees at three gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Ky., Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Piketon, Ohio.
But Congress did not fully fund the proposed plan from the 2000 fiscal year budget, and now the DOE is scrambling to replace those funds. "Obtaining funding for this program is a priority of Secretary Richardson's, and we are working on getting that funding right now," said a DOE spokesperson.
How much money is involved is not clear. According to the DOE Congress did not provide the extra $7 million needed to fund the program.
According to a spokesperson for the Chair of the House sub-committee charged with funding the DOE, only $4.850 million would have actually been spent on medical monitoring. The rest of the $7 million Congress did not authorize would have been for "oversight."
"We asked them to 'reprioritize' where the money would be most needed," since Congress had already allocated $49 million to the department for health studies, said Melissa Carlson, Ron Packard's, R-Calif., press secretary.
Contractor workers at Paducah uranium enrichment facility were potentially exposed to plutonium and other radioactive contaminants as a result of the Atomic Energy Commission's refuse of uranium previously used to produce plutonium from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The money would have funded increasing the number of former workers who receiving medical monitoring for potential health problems stemming from their exposure to plutonium. In addition, the expanded program would have provided to study the health of current workers for the first time.
Currently, only $1 million is available, enough to cover about 1,200 former workers a year. The program would have expanded to include 600 additional former workers and about 900 current workers at each site.