Yet another attempt to gain a national apology and federal financial compensation for 1950's radiation victims was launched Thursday by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.
Hatch has introduced bills for fallout and uranium mining compensation since 1980, and Owens worked for the radiation victims as an attorney from 1978 until he was elected to the House in 1986.The current effort would offer victims, or their estates, compassionate payments of $50,000 for fallout-caused cancers and $100,000 for illnesses contracted through working in radioactive dust-contaminated mines.
Miners would be eligible for larger payments because it is generally believed that the government knew many of them would die of their radiation exposure and did little or nothing to reduce it or warn them.
The fallout victims would get less because medical evidence has suggested that although people living downwind of the atomic bomb test site in Nevada were exposed to higher than now-permissible levels of radiation, their exposure was smaller - and that a portion of the observed cancer in the area would have occurred naturally.
The two lawmakers said they hoped their bill would be successful where more than a dozen others have failed, because the courts have closed the last avenue of redress through litigation and have said that the case cries out for a Congressional solution.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a year ago that the United States was immune to suits in the cases because it has the sovereign right to undertake such tests without legal challenge.
Both men said their bill would cost a maximum of $100 million, but perhaps less than half that. The fact that it would create no legal precedent makes it more likely to pass. They cited the passage in the last Congress of payment to Japanese World War II internees, and before that, $150 million in compensation to Pacific island natives for alleged fallout injury.
Owens said he does not stand to benefit from legal fees that might be paid by his former clients who would receive reparations.