A Justice Department official urged a House subcommittee on Friday to reject "ill-conceived" legislation to compensate some cancer victims among Southwestern uranium miners and people who lived downwind of 1950s U.S. atomic tests in Nevada.
"The bill does not require that causation between exposure to radiation and cancer be established or that any legal theory of liability on the part of the United States be proven," said Steven Valentine, deputy assistant attorney general in the department's civil division.Valentine, restating opposition voiced by Justice officials for more than a decade, said the department does not believe a link has been proven between radiation and cancers in miners and people receiving fallout from the atmospheric weapons tests.
"The assumptions underlying this ill-conceived proposal are either subject to serious dispute or demonstrably erroneous," said Valentine, adding that the department would recommend a veto of legislation being pushed by lawmakers from Utah to compensate victims or their survivors.
"I am incredulous," responded Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on administrative law and government relations. Frank said radiation victim compensation "will be high on the (subcommittee's) agenda next year. It won't go away."
Frank's hearing centered on bills introduced by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to pay compensation similar to what Congress has voted in recent years to military people who participated in the tests and to Marshall Islanders injured by U.S. nuclear tests in the Pacific.
Their proposal would give $50,000 each to people who lived in a designated downwind area of Nevada, Utah and Arizona during the Nevada tests and who developed cancers that studies show had a high probability of being caused by the radiation.
Payments of $100,000 each would go to people who worked for minimum periods in underground uranium mines in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona between 1949 and 1971 and who developed lung cancer and other respiratory problems.
The lawmakers say the legislation is needed because a U.S. appeals court has overturned a circuit court ruling that awarded damages to some 1,200 downwind residents on grounds that the government had failed to warn them of the tests' dangers.
Owens said payments to the miners are justified because the government knew of high levels of radiation in the mines but failed to warn the miners.