September 17, 1999
Richardson recommends $21.8 million
By Bill Bartleman
U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is recommending spending an additional $21.8 million next year to expand medical worker monitoring and speed the cleanup of radioactive contamination at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and Portsmouth, Ohio.
Richardson also confirmed Thursday that the Clinton administration will propose legislation to establish a pilot program for compensating current and former contract workers at the Paducah plant for cancers caused by jobrelated exposure to radioactive contaminants.
Richardson said the benefits would cover lost wages and health related expenses.
Details of how the program would work will be included in legislation that will soon be sent to Congress, Richardson said. He said the pilot program could eventually be expanded to other DOE facilities where uranium is processed.
David Fuller, president of the atomic workers union, said he is pleased at the commitment to compensate workers and former workers for illnesses.
However, he said that before passing final judgment, he wants to see details of how it will work.
The Sun and other news organizations reported Thursday that the Clinton administration planned to expand the beryllium program to some Paducah workers.
"The compensation proposal and the budget amendment follow through on my August commitment to address concerns about environment, safety and health issues at the gaseous diffusion plants," Richardson said.
He said the $21.8 million increase for medical monitoring will be included in a supplemental budget bill that will be presented to Congress and added to the budget that takes effect Oct. 1.
"The budget amendment provides a realistic strategy to immediately improve health and safety conditions at the plants and I trust that Congress will act favorably on the measure," Richardson said.
The money would be divided for work at plants in Paducah, Oak Ridge and Portsmouth to accelerate health, safety and cleanup activities.
He said $7 million would be used for environment, safety and health programs to:
Provide technical expertise on radiological issues, including identifying and analyzing worker health and safety risks and exposures; assessing each plant's radiation and contamination control programs and waste practices; and reviewing the historical generation and flow of recycled uranium.
Substantially increase medical monitoring to detect potential health hazards to former and current workers. Funding already has been provided for medical monitoring of 1,200 former workers per year at the three plants. The program would be expanded to include 600 additional former workers at each site and about 900 current workers at each site. Richardson promised "an objective, independent and expert evaluation" of each worker.
He said that $10.7 million would be earmarked to accelerate environmental cleanup at Paducah and Portsmouth. The priority would be where there is potential radioactive contamination of groundwater, surface water, burial grounds and surface soil. It also will be used to decontaminate and decommission some facilities that are still in use.
The plan also earmarks $4.1 million at Paducah and Portsmouth to accelerate cleanup of inactive Department of Energy buildings that are no longer used, to reduce or eliminate chemical hazards and radiologically contaminated material that creates a potential exposure to workers, and to ensure that canisters filled with depleted uranium hexafluoride are being stored safely.
Richardson said it is too early to say how much the benefit package for Paducah workers and former workers will cost. That won't be known until after the health study is completed for the current and former workers.
The program and its benefit package will be modeled after the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, he said. Currently, contract workers are not eligible to participate in that program. Instead, they must seek benefits from staterun workers' compensation programs, under which it is more difficult to pprove occupational illness.