LLRC Journal Radioactive Times. Vol.4 No 1

U.S. Acknowledges Radiation Caused Cancers in Workers

This is the first time that the government is acknowledging that people got cancer from radiation exposure in the plants.
US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

Report from Radioactive Times Volume 4, Number 1, June 2000 (content not updated)

After decades of denial, the U.S. government is conceding that exposure to radiation and chemicals in 14 nuclear weapons factories has caused higher-than-normal rates of 22 types of cancer in workers.

The finding is detailed in a draft report prepared by officials of the Energy Department, the White House and a dozen government agencies. In July 1999, when the Energy Department concluded that some workers at plants supplying beryllium for bomb-making had developed beryllium disease, an incurable lung ailment, President Clinton asked for a broad study that would look at the effects of radiation and chemical hazards from uranium, plutonium and other substances.

No research was done specifically for this study. It is a comprehensive review of raw health data gathered by the Energy Department, the Atomic Energy Commission and contractors, together with epidemiological studies of workers carried out from the mid-1960s. Some of these were commissioned officially but were disavowed by the government when they were published.

The review now accepts the conclusion of many of the studies, that workers were made sick by their exposure. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said that if these findings are borne out [by the final report] the honorable thing for the government to do is to protect its workers, past and present. Officials have admitted that hundreds of families could be eligible for compensation amounting to tens of millions of dollars.

"In the past, the role of government was to take a hike," said Mr Richardson, "and I think that was wrong."

An expert on nuclear weapons manufacture, Robert Alvarez, a former Energy Department official, has welcomed the government's conclusion that many of its critics had been correct. A review of the studies by a body impaneled by the president is official recognition, Mr. Alvarez said. That's what makes this a big deal.

Daniel Guttman, a lawyer for a trade union representing employees at 11 weapons factories, described the draft conclusions as stunning. A policy analyst with the same union pointed out that in the past the Energy Department and its predecessor, the AEC, had spared no resources to defeat employees who claimed to be suffering from disease induced by radiation or chemicals.

Workers' representatives say that workers exposed to radiation and chemical hazards from uranium, plutonium and fluorine have higher-than-expected rates of leukaemia, lung and bladder cancer, vision difficulties and chronic fatigue syndrome, among other health problems.

The draft report, however, lists only cancers, ranging from leukaemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma to cancer of the prostate, kidney, salivary glands and lung, and it does not show a direct causal link between exposure and specific illnesses.

A partial draft dated Dec. 23 was given to news media at the end of January and was widely reported.

A critical component of the study, according to Energy Department officials, is the testimony of former and current employees at the nuclear-weapons plants. Some of that testimony is yet to be taken.

US campaigners are concerned that the report is limited to employees, although the general public had been exposed to emissions, in some cases deliberately.

The final study was due to be released on 31st March, but LLRC has not been able to find any reference to it on the internet. Any information would be welcomed.

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