The House voted 382-31 yesterday to give government-paid health care and $150,000 cash in compensation to workers sickened from the effects of radiation, silica or beryllium exposure while working for companies involved in nuclear weapons production.
The compensation was included in a military authorization bill and expected to pass in the Senate.
Under the bill, each worker suffering from radiation, beryllium or silica exposure would receive a lump sum payment of $150,000 and medical benefits for life. Heirs of dead workers would receive the payments.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the program would cost taxpayers approximately $1.9 billion over the next 10 years.
Those workers and relatives who accept the compensation package would not be able to file lawsuits against the government or its contractors.
About 600,000 people worked in the weapons production during the Cold War, of which some 3,000 to 4,000 are expected to receive compensation. It is estimated that 10,000 uranium miners could be eligible.
Many government complexes and smaller private manufacturing plants that had government contracts around the United States assisted in the production of nuclear weapons and often kept employees in the dark about the hazards they were dealing with.
The Energy Department last spring reversed a 50 year-old position by saying that those workers injured or killed by weapons plant exposures should be compensation. It proposed a $100,000 lump sum payment.
by Virginia Sutcliffe