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As U.S. ramps up nuclear production (again), the human toll of past work continues to mount, including at LANL

February 12, 2020

February 12, 2020

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Industry News

As U.S. ramps up nuclear production (again), the human toll of past work continues to mount, including at LANL

Contact: Michelle Matisons, 505-265-1200 office; Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563 cell

Albuquerque and Santa Fe — The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) went into effect in 2001, compensating and providing medical care for sick and dead U.S. nuclear weapons workers. In light of the enormous current pressure to establish industrial plutonium warhead core (“pit”) production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Savannah River Site (SRS), it is useful to review some recent data on EEOICPA claims, which represent just part of the human cost of the (ongoing) Cold War.

Nationwide data on EEOICPA claims was obtained and analyzed in 2015 in the important McClatchy “Irradiated” series [if main link doesn’t work see the articles and selected background materials on this page.] McClatchy found that as of 2015, at least 33,480 nuclear workers who had received EEOICPA compensation had died. Of these the Department of Labor (DOL) has acknowledged that radiation or other toxins contributed to the deaths of 15,809 (video at 7:25). McClatchy’s analysis found that less than half of those who had applied for compensation were successful.

Additional data and individual case stories on LANL worker safety and health were provided in the 2018 ProPublica/Santa Fe New Mexican “Half Life” series. FOIA documents revealed, for example, that 1,400 claims for radiation-related illness had been filed by LANL workers and an additional 335 deceased workers had radiation-related claims filed on their behalf.

Since 2001, 317,209 EEOICPA claims have been filed, with 123,798 claims paid, representing 126,361 unique individual nuclear workers. As of December 31, 2019 DOL reports overall spending for all EEOICPA compensation, plus medical bills paid, was $17,515,274,729. That’s an average of $973 million a year settled towards nuclear work-related illness and death, with survivor benefits included.

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