Checks for victims of nuke weapons programs


WASHINGTON, AP

Uranium miners and other Americans exposed to radiation from Cold War-era nuclear weapons tests will finally see promised compensation for their illnesses.

In a deal struck on Thursday as part of negotiations over a supplemental spending bill, those holding IOUs will be covered — although no amount has yet been attached. The Senate had estimated outstanding IOUs for those exposed to radiation at US$84 million.

The government had been issuing IOUs to the radiation victims since the compensation program ran out of money more than a year ago.

The compromise budget bill must be approved by the House and Senate and signed by President George W. Bush. Funding for victims under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act is part of a US$6.5 billion spending bill designed to address programs in need of urgent funding. The House hadn’t budgeted for it, while the Senate had.

“That’s great news and it’s a relief for the families of the ill IOU-holders,” said Lori Goodman, spokesperson for the group Dine-CARE, which represents Navajo Indians who worked uranium mines on the reservation. “They’re doing the right thing — the humane thing.”

“It’s a long time overdue,” said Ed Brickey, co-chairman of the Western States RECA Reform Coalition.

The act, passed in 1990, provided cash payments of US$100,000 to uranium miners and US$50,000 to “Downwinders” — residents sickened by their exposure to radioactive fallout caused by nuclear weapons tests in Nevada.

Many have died while awaiting payments.

Bob Key of Fruita, Colorado, who suffers from pulmonary fibrosis after working for four years in a uranium mine, was hospitalized this week and is in need of surgery. He received his IOU last August.

According to the Justice Department, which administers the program, there are 191 claimants — either miners, Downwinders or their survivors — holding IOUs worth US$10 million.

In Colorado, 71 claimants are owed US$6.5 million. Sixty-eight claimants are owed US$3.5 million in Nevada, 47 are owed US$3 million in Arizona, 42 are owed US$4 million in New Mexico, and 13 are owed US$1 million in California. Other claimants are scattered across the country.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said it is unclear how long it would take for claimants to begin receiving checks once the deal is approved.