Once-classified government documents help lawyers defend sick nuclear workers at S.C. complex


Once-classified government documents help lawyers defend sick nuclear workers at S.C. complex

Lawyers are using once-classified government documents to defend potentially thousands of sick nuclear weapons workers and their families that should be eligible for federal benefits.

The once-secret documents were released last year. They provide evidence that employees at the Savannah River Site were in fact being exposed to thorium after 1972, which contradicts the government’s statement that the plant no longer had major amounts of the radioactive material.

 Thorium is used in the aerospace industry and also with nuclear reactions. Thorium’s dust alone, can increase the change of lung disease and pancreatic cancer, if breathed in. Even years after being exposed to it, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It is also tasteless and odorless, also linked to bone cancer, the agency reports.

The federal government has already began the process for sick workers employed prior to 1973 at SRS to receive compensation due to the likelihood of thorium exposure.

For those that qualify, benefits could increase to $400,000 under the federal compensation program. This program is available to sick and injured workers at federal weapons complexes across the nation. The program has also experienced criticism for their complicated rules, resulting in many deserving workers receiving denial letters.

Now that the once-secret documents have been released, there are more than 1,300 pages of records questioning past federal reasoning for not increasing the compensation program. Records show that Thorium did exist in important amounts for many years at SRS after 1972.

Among the documents are:

▪  Handwritten records from SRS officials showing that more than 8 tons of thorium were stored at the site in 1998.

▪ A 1982 memo from a ranking SRS official showing that thorium was amongst the radioactive materials the government wanted to remove.

▪  A 1976 inventory report showing about 7 tons of thorium on the site.

Under the federal compensation program, workers sickened with several types of cancer at SRS and other federal weapons sites must prove that the radiation they received was a big cause of their sickness. But, the government may also declare complete classes of employees as qualifying without requiring every single case to document their own doses. This can occur when individual doses are inaccessible to workers.

In the U.S, the government has compensated more than $12 billion to sick ex-nuclear employees and their families, including the ones from South Carolina’s plant, SRS, McClatchy newspaper reported last year. 

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