By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao hopes to visit two communities next week "regarding the energy workers program," according to Stuart Roy, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor.
One of the first checks is expected to be issued to Clara Harding of Paducah, whose husband, Joe Harding, died of cancer more than 20 years ago after making public claims his illness was caused by his work at the plant.
She has maintained a high profile because of taped comments her husband made about his illness. She also has testified before Congress and received a special award from former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson recognizing her for efforts to publicize conditions at the plant.
Partly because of publicity she generated, Congress approved a compensation program for nuclear weapons workers who became ill because of work-related conditions. The program pays a $150,000 lump sum plus future medical costs.
Department of Labor personnel began processing claims Tuesday. Roy said the easiest claims to process will be those filed by former workers at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Portsmouth, Ohio.
Those former workers or surviving family members have to prove only that they have certain types of cancer. Under the federal compensation legislation, it is assumed the cancer was caused by exposure to radiation and other chemicals at the plants.
Cases from other Department of Energy facilities will take longer to process because workers must prove their illness was caused by exposure.
Roy said officials hope that within two weeks, checks are being issued by the federal government on a regular basis. "We don't want to get people's hopes up ... and are careful not to raise expectations," Roy said. "But that's our goal."