ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Senate has agreed to grant compensation to former Amchitka Island workers who get sick and die from cancer or other diseases linked to radiation exposure.
The amendment was added Thursday to a defense bill still under consideration by the Senate and which must clear the House.
It would include the Amchitka atomic testing program in an expanded list of nuclear facilities whose workers would automatically qualify for compensation if they are diagnosed with radiation-induced diseases.
Three underground nuclear devices were exploded under Amchitka, an island near the end of the Aleutian Chain some 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The tests were held in 1965, 1969 and 1971. The last of those tests, a five-megaton blast code-named Cannikin, was the largest underground nuclear explosion ever conducted by the United States.
As many as 2,000 workers were involved in the testing program and follow-up monitoring.
Although some of those workers contracted forms of cancer and other diseases that are typically caused by radiation exposure, they were unable to press compensation claims because there was no evidence that any exposure occurred.
''That is simply unfair and is the reason we are including Amchitka workers as part of the special group that will be entitled to compensation,'' said Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska and sponsor of the amendment.
One of the biggest problems is identifying those who worked at Amchitka.
David Garman, Murkowski's chief of staff, said researchers have leads on the whereabouts of about 700 workers and solid addresses on another 500 of the estimated 2,000 employees. About 300 are believed to still live in Alaska.
Compensation would be paid to workers or their survivors if they have developed most forms of leukemia, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, or cancer of the bladder, bone, brain, breast, cervix, digestive system, gallbladder, kidney, larynx, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate, salivary gland, thyroid, urinary tract and reproductive organs.
Murkowski's amendment added Amchitka workers to a provision sponsored by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., to make compensation available for Energy Department employees sickened by radiation exposure at uranium enrichment plants in Portsmouth, Ohio, Paducah, Ky., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.
The Energy Department agreed last year to investigate the health of former Amchitka workers, and such a program is expected to cost about $1.23 million.
Medical screening is being overseen by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Alaska State District Council of Laborers, which represents many of the former workers.
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