The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, November 30, 2001

Chao pleased with sick workers' compensation

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said she is pleased with the way claims are being paid to people who presumably got sick from radiation exposure while working at the Paducah uranium enrichment plant during the Cold War.

Chao, who on Thursday visited the claims center off Blandville Road, said out of about 800 claims filed, 50 have been paid and about 70 more should be paid soon. The center opened in July to help workers or their spouses qualify for $150,000 and medical care if the employees suffer from specific cancers related to radiation exposure, silica or beryllium.

Chao said rumors the center might close are untrue. The center not only will stay open as long as needed, but its role has expanded at least temporarily from intake to advocacy.

"The bottom line is we want people to be taken care of and it seems to be going along very well," she said. "Just from my visits this (Thursday) afternoon, the clients who were in the lobby appear to be pleased. When you deal with any government bureaucracy, there is going to be frustration, but it's been good for them to have someone who has been able to shepherd them through."

Chao also met privately with Boyd Young, president of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE) International, who came to Paducah from union headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. Last week, nearly 700 PACE employees at the Paducah plant approved an 18-month contract with operator USEC Inc.

The union and company are awaiting guidance from the Bush administration about how much the government will support continued operation of the plant, which is the nation's only uranium enrichment facility. Although Chao said she was unaware of the White House's stance, the union has said the administration is formalizing a plan to help keep the plant running.

Turning to the aftermath of Sept. 11, Chao said the government has allocated about $150 billion to help with relief and jobs lost as a result of the terrorism. "The president has been very concerned about the economy and about unemployed workers," she said.