U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II says it’s time for Congress to hold hearings on federal compensation for former nuclear plant workers.
A McClatchy newspapers investigation found fewer than half of applicants received payouts from the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which was created in 2001 to help pay the medical expenses of factory workers exposed to radiation and other carcinogens.
“The people who worked there deserve to know the federal government is doing all it can to make sure their workers were protected, and if they were not protected, the federal government has to pay the bill that’s come due,” Cleaver says. “At the bare minimum, we ought to hold hearings.”
The way the program is administered currently, workers must prove there’s at least a 30 percent chance their cancer or illness was contracted at the plant. They’re then paid on a sliding scale. So far, even with an an approval rate below 50 percent, the program has paid out some $12 billion.
Cleaver’s concerned that former employees of the Kansas City plant at the old Bannister Federal Complex have had their claims approved at even lower rates – just 23 percent.
“You know, when you work in a nuclear facility, a facility that makes piece-parts for nuclear weapons, that’s almost like placing individuals in combat zones because you’re going to handle some toxic materials,” Cleaver says.
Though the Bannister Federal Complex is in his district, former workers live all over the Kansas City metro area, including in Reps. Vicky Hartzler’s and Kevin Yoder’s districts. Cleaver says his Republican colleagues also want adequate compensation for sick nuclear workers.
“I think both sides are going to want to make sure workers are taken care of when they put their lives on the line for the government,” he says.
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.