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U.S. workers exposed to radiation
Government concedes dangers faced by weapons employees 
 
ASSOCIATED PRESS - NEW YORK, Jan. 29 — The government has conceded for the first time that workers who helped make nuclear weapons were exposed to cancer-causing radiation and chemicals, The New York Times reported Saturday. 


THE FINDINGS that radiation exposure led to higher-than-normal and wide-ranging cancers in workers is detailed in a draft report prepared by the Energy Department and the White House, the newspaper said.


“This is the first time that the government is acknowledging that people got cancer from radiation exposure in the plants,” Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told the Times.


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


The admission raises the possibility that the government may eventually be forced to compensate families and survivors.
The report said 22 different kinds of cancers, including leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate, kidney and lung cancer, were found among 600,000 people who worked at 14 nuclear weapons plants since World War II. 


Since the Manhattan Project in 1957, when workers began handling radioactive material to produce atomic bombs, the government has minimized workers’ risks and spent millions defending itself in lawsuits.


The Energy Department, along with various agencies, have been compiling data since July after Richardson’s agency concluded that some workers at weapons plants supplying beryllium developed beryllium disease, an incurable lung ailment.


President Clinton ordered a broad study that would also look at the effects of radiation and chemical hazards from uranium, plutonium and other substances.


Daniel J. Guttman, an attorney for the Paper, Allied-Industrial Chemical and Energy Workers Union, called the draft conclusions stunning. Guttman’s firm represents employees at 11 weapons factories.


“The prior story line is, ’What’s the big deal, the risks were marginal,”’ he said.


The findings come from epidemiological studies performed from as far back as the mid-1960s, including many dismissed by the government when they were published.


Other information was gathered from the Energy Department, which now owns the nuclear plants, the Atomic Energy Commission, or their contractors. The Times said none of the research was specifically done for this study.


The report is expected to be completed by March.


Among the sites noted in the report were several operations at Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Savannah River in South Carolina; Hanford, in Washington state; Rocky Flats near Denver; the Fernald Feed Materials Center near Cincinnati; and at the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories.

 
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