Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, says one of the first things he'll do when he goes back to Washington next month is to make sure beneficiaries of the so-called downwinders' bill get their just compensation.
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was signed Oct. 5 by President Bush but does not become law until April 15, 1991.One provision gives attorneys who help radiation victims or their heirs 10 percent of the federal payments. Hansen wants that provision changed.
The bill is designed to give $100,000 in compensation to miners who worked in underground uranium mines, risking lung cancer; $75,000 to people who worked at the Nevada Test Site during above-ground nuclear weapons blasts; and $50,000 to Utah, Arizona and Nevada residents living downwind from the test site during the 1950s and early 1960s, the years of open-air nuclear weapons testing.
The legislation spells out what types of cancers are covered and how to apply for compensation, Hansen said, and most of the people can handle the claims on their own.
The Utah Republican said he wants to change the bill so attorneys would be paid only in cases where initial compensation claims were denied.
"The way it's written, this is an attorneys' retirement bill," Hansen said.
Nearly two decades after above-ground testing was halted in 1963, more than 2,000 Arizona, Nevada and Utah residents sued the federal government.
The lawsuit alleged that they or family members developed cancers as a result of working underground to produce weapons-grade uranium or when fallout rained on them following atomic blasts at the Nevada Test Site.
U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins ruled in favor of about half of the downwinders. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed Jenkins' ruling.
The House and Senate then took up the issue.