US Admits Radiation
Sickened Workers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In an about-face, U.S. officials confirmed on Saturday that nuclear weapons workers exposed to radiation and chemicals experienced higher-than-expected cancer rates.
The admission was contained in a draft report by the Energy Department and the White House. It comes after the U.S. government spent years minimizing the dangers of exposure to radiation and defending itself against charges that nuclear bomb plants had sickened workers.
The findings, first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, could lead to negotiations over a package to compensate sick workers and their families.
Richardson, attending an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, said on Saturday, ``We should take care of our workers'' if a final report due out in March confirms a linkage between exposure to radiation and health problems.
The draft report says workers exposed to radiation and chemicals at 14 U.S. nuclear weapons plants had elevated rates of 22 categories of cancer ranging from leukemia to lung cancer, according to the Times.
A nuclear weapons expert cited by the paper said hundreds of people may have been sickened since nuclear weapons production began during the Second World War. That number could rise to the thousands if radiation-linked diseases other than cancer were counted.
The Times said compensation for the group could add up to tens of millions of dollars.
President Clinton ordered the report last year after the Energy Department said some nuclear plant workers who had helped supply beryllium -- a toxic metal -- to the government had been stricken with beryllium disease, an untreatable lung condition.
The facilities listed in the report included nuclear weapons operations at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Savannah River in South Carolina; Hanford in eastern Washington state; Rocky Flats near Denver; Fernald Feed Materials Center near Cincinnati, Ohio; the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California; and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
The report did not list a federally owned plant in Kentucky where thousands of workers allegedly were exposed to plutonium over more than two decades.
In August last year, Richardson called for an investigation after The Washington Post said uranium workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant inhaled plutonium-laced dust brought into the plant for 23 years until as recently as 1976.


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