House, Senate conference OKs compensation for Amchitka workers

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A conference of House and Senate members has agreed to grant compensation to former Amchitka Island workers who got ill or died from a variety of cancers and other diseases linked to radiation exposure, Sen. Frank Murkowski's office announced Friday.

Workers who developed certain cancers will be entitled to receive $150,000 each, plus medical benefits. Compensation will be available to workers involved in the nuclear testing program before Jan. 1, 1974.

The compensation package was inserted this summer into a broader nuclear weapons workers package at the urging of Murkowski, R-Alaska. It included 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. Murkowski said at least 300 still live in Alaska.

Investigators have said that workers were exposed to above normal levels of radiation, up to 17,240 millirems a year. The allowable radiation level at the time was 5,000 millirems a year.

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.

''We have been able to make the case that Alaska workers who labored on Amchitka tests must be compensated for the health effects of their labors,'' Murkowski said Friday. ''Their efforts deterred a hostile attack and safeguarded our security. It is only just they receive compensation if they become sick.''

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, which is just beginning, 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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