September 18, 1999
Richardson says government will carry burden of proof
By Bill Bartleman
The Paducah Sun
Approximately 200 current and former workers at the Paducah Gaseous
Diffusion Plant are expected to share $20 million as compensation for
illnesses caused by exposure to radioactive materials, Energy Secretary
Bill Richardson said.
At a news conference Friday as he neared the end of a two-day visit to
Paducah, Richardson promised that it will be easy for workers with
illnesses and families of workers who died from illnesses to collect the
"We are going to make every effort to make filing claims as simple and
unbureaucratic as possible, which is going to be difficult for the
government," he said. "The burden of proof
will not be on the worker. The burden of proof will be on the
government and plant to prove that the worker was not harmed or contaminated."
Before a compensation plan is finalized, Richardson said, Congress will
have to approve a change in the DOE budget. He said a bill will be proposed
in a couple of weeks to transfer the $20 million from another DOE program.
"I think that we'll be able to get that through," he said.
The amount of each benefit will be based on lost wages and medical
costs. Also, he said, widows of those who died from illnesses will receive
cash payment. He said the amount hasn't been decided.
The plant opened in 1952 and enriches uranium for use as a nuclear
fuel. Its original mission was to enrich uranium for use in nuclear
weapons. That production ended about nine years ago when the Cold War ended.
"We want to be fair to these workers who were so important to the Cold
War," he said. "We weren't always straight with them in the past."
Richardson departed at noon Friday after a morning of meetings with
workers, former workers, a plant advisory board, DOE employees and managers
of the production facilities at the plant. On Thursday night, he held a
town meeting at which about 200 people attended.
"I encouraged everyone to be open and candid with the investigations
that are taking place," Richardson said. "I reiterated that the Paducah
plant is going to continue operating. I am not closing it down."
The priorities will be to accelerate the cleanup schedule by providing
an additional $14 million for the fiscal year that begins next month. The
current budget proposes spending about $40 million. He said "significantly
more money will be proposed" for cleanup in Paducah in 2001.
Richardson also said he has approved a request for assigning two more
DOE employees to Paducah. That is on top of the two new staff members that
he announced earlier in the week for the Paducah office.
The first two will be transferred from Oak Ridge, Tenn., and will be
involved in oversight of safety procedures by contract workers and plant
workers. The other two will be added by the end of the year, a DOE source
In discussing personnel, Richardson had high praise for Jimmie Hodges,
the DOE site manager who announced this week that he will retire Oct. 1.
Hodges said he is leaving to pursue employment options in the private sector.
Richardson said Hodges was not forced to retire because of the
controversy surrounding past environmental management at the plant.
"He has been an invaluable part of the DOE team and has done a great
job," Richardson said. "His leaving is his own decision, not mine. He is
leaving for personal reasons. He has made his decision to retire, but if
he wants to change his mind he can stay."
Richardson said if Hodges does not stay, he will appoint a woman as the
new site manager. "We need more women in the Department of Energy," he
said, adding that he does't know who will be named.
Hodges said in an interview later that "I've made my decision" and he
doesn't intend to change his mind.