WASHINGTON — While Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, opposes a bill to expand compensation programs for downwind cancer victims of atomic testing, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is supporting it — and saying some of Hatch's arguments against it are invalid.

Hatch earlier this week decided to oppose a bill by several Western senators that would triple compensation for downwinders to $150,000; would make all of Utah eligible for compensation instead of just 10 counties (it would also make several other Western states eligible); and make proving claims easier.

Hatch — who passed the original compensation program through Congress in 1990 — said about the new bill, "I fear it is overly broad and prohibitively expensive. I also believe it is important to continue to base any expansion of the program on sound science."

Matheson on Wednesday argued that science has shown that more people deserve payments than have received them. He added that he will co-sponsor a House version of the bill that is expected to be introduced later this week.

"Evidence compiled over the last 13 years points to the likelihood that there are even more victims in Utah and other states than are already acknowledged under current law," Matheson said.

He added that five years ago, he requested that investigators on the House Government Reform Committee examine county-by-county National Cancer Institute data on rates of radiation-associated cancer in Utah.

"That report concluded that for the 30-year period the NCI has tracked cancer rates, there was an 8 percent higher rate of radiation-associated cancers in areas where residents can't now be compensated than in those where residents are eligible," Matheson said.

2 comments on this story

"This has implications for thousands of victims in 19 Utah counties who by law cannot file a claim. I've requested a congressional hearing on this issue to draw attention to new information and heighten awareness," Matheson said.

Of note, Matheson has said that he believes that the death of his father, former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, was caused by exposure to radioactive fallout. He died in 1990 of multiple myeloma cancer. He lived in Parowan (an area that is eligible for compensation) during part of the atomic testing era.

This story was reported from Salt Lake City.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com