Federal departments announce compensation for ill nuclear workers

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Former atomic program workers on Amchitka Island who have developed certain forms of cancer or two other diseases will be entitled to compensation of $150,000 and medical care costs starting July 31 under a federal program announced Tuesday.

About 50 people attended an afternoon meeting where officials from the U.S Departments of Energy and Labor explained the new program for workers and their surviving relatives.

The new program is required by a federal law passed last year. Workers on Amchitka employed during the testing period and its aftermath who have contracted one of 21 forms of radiation-related cancers, silicosis or berylliosis of the lung are eligible for compensation.

Amchitka Island is part of the Aleutian Islands. Amchitka is 35 miles long and three miles wide and is about 230 miles southeast of Attu Island, the final land body in the chain.

The government detonated three underground nuclear explosions on Amchitka between 1964 and 1971. A 1998 study commission by Alaska labor unions indicated that workers on the island during that time may have been exposed to health-threatening levels of radiation.

In November 1999, the Amchitka Workers Medical Surveillance Program began tracking down and screening former workers for cancer and other radiation-related diseases. A lack of reliable government records of radiation exposure held back the former workers' claims, said Dr. Knut Ringen, principal investigator for the medical screening program.

Since the compensation law was passed in October, he said, the government has been ''bending over backward'' to set up the new program.

Don Weber, director of the medical screening program, said the group has identified more than 1,150 workers from the island, interviewed 450, and examined about 200.

Based on preliminary data, Ringen estimated that 25 percent of workers surveyed will have medical problems covered by the new law.

Bev Aleck, whose husband, Nick, died of cancer in 1975 after working on the island, called the new program ''a victory for the Amchitka workers.''

The period covered extends from 1964, when the testing program began, until January 1974, when cleanup ended.

The Department of Labor will oversee the new program and will set up a resource center in Anchorage to help workers file claims.

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