US admits link with cancers at nuclear arms plants

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The Independent US

Reversing a position it held for decades, the US government has concluded that many workers who built America's nuclear weapons probably became ill because of exposure to radiation or toxic chemicals.

Reversing a position it held for decades, the US government has concluded that many workers who built America's nuclear weapons probably became ill because of exposure to radiation or toxic chemicals.

The findings, based on a review of studies and medical data on about 600,000 workers at 14 nuclear weapons sites, could lead to compensation for some families. Many workers were unaware that they were being exposed to such health risks.

While the draft report did not show a direct causal link between workplace exposure and specific illnesses, it found that workers suffered higher than normal rates in 22 categories of cancer. The study looked at health records and other data covering three decades of the Cold War from the late 1940s into the 1960s. An officialstressed that it did not relate to workers' conditions today.

But the draft report, ordered by President Bill Clinton last July, is a reversal of the government's position that no links exist between work conducted at the Cold War-era weapons plants and later illnesses. That argument has blocked many compensation lawsuits.

The compensation issue, to be discussed in coming months, has yet to be resolved, but the government is now acknowledging that perhaps thousands of workers may well have been made sick by their working environment. An official suggested that the number of families to be compensated would be "hundreds, not thousands".

"It does appear that in the Department of Energy complex, there is a direct link between exposure and the possibility of contamination," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Mr Richardson said that if the studies are borne out "the honorable thing for the government to do is to protect its workers, past and present," including compensation.

None of the plants still produces nuclear weapons.

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