Two Utah lawmakers will try again to get an apology and $50,000 apiece to compensate civilians in Utah, Nevada and Arizona who were injured by fallout from atomic bomb tests of the 1950s in Nevada.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, are expected to introduce legislation this week to help both fallout victims and underground uranium miners who later developed cancer attributed to radiation. Because the miners' illnesses are more directly attributable to their work in the weapons program, they would be eligible for payments of $100,000. None of the payments would be taxable.Reports in the Deseret News between 1977 and 1980 tied higher-than-expected cancer rates, particularly leukemia, to fallout from the 1951-58 bomb tests. Hatch has tried since then to get legislation in varying forms to aid the victims. Owens was an attorney for a group of victims who won damages in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, only to have that ruling reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed last year that the United States was immune to such suits.
The new Hatch-Owens bill would pattern compensation after an award to victims of the 1947 Texas City, Texas, explosion of a nitrate ship. The ship victims were granted "compassionate" payments because although it was apparent that the United States was at fault, there was no legal remedy available.
The trust fund would contain enough money to pay at least 1,000 fallout victims and 500 miners.
"The United States should recognize and assume equitable and compassionate responsibility for the damages sustained by these civilians (and miners) and provide . . . a procedure to make partial restitution to these individuals for the burdens they have borne for the nation as a whole," the bill will state.
The overall cost of the compensation would be limited to $100 million under the bill, plus interest on the trust fund to be established and any other amounts that might come from other sources. The trust fund would expire 15 years after enactment of the bill.
A seven-member board of directors would be established to hear claims from miners and civilians. One member each would be named on the recommendation of the governors of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, and the remaining two by the president.
Any individual who lived in the fallout-affected area between Jan. 21, 1951, and Oct. 31, 1958, or between June 30 and July 31, 1962, when an underground test vented, who subsequently developed leukemia, multiple myeloma, or cancer of the thyroid, lung, female breast, stomach, colon, esophagus or urinary tract, would be eligible for a compassionate payment to himself or his heirs.
The bill will identify as "affected" the counties in Utah of Washington, Kane, Garfield, Sevier, Beaver, Mil-lard and Piute. The Nevada counties of White Pine, Nye, Lander and Lincoln would be covered. The Arizona portion would be the area north of the Grand Canyon and west of the Colorado River.
Miners who worked in uranium diggings between Jan. 1, 1947, and Dec. 31, 1961, and were exposed to 100 or more working levels of radiation, and did not smoke, or 250 working levels for smokers, and who developed lung cancer or other respiratory illness, would be entitled to the $100,000 payment.
Victims or their heirs would have two years to file claims after enactment of the bill or discovery of the disease. Attorney's fees, limited to 10 percent, would come out of the individual awards. The payments would be in addition to any insurance victims might have received. Victims would not be required to have filed claims before enactment of the measure.