By NukeWatch Quarterly
NukeWatch Quarterly Editorâ€™s note: After a year-long investigation, a book-length Special Report by McClatchy* findsÂ thatÂ atÂ leastÂ 33,480Â USÂ nuclear weaponsÂ factoryÂ workersÂ diedÂ ofÂ illnesses caused by radiation exposures received onthe job. Following is McClatchyâ€™s summary of its December 11, 2015 report.**
The U.S. government has compensated over 52,000 nuclear workers for illnesses related to radiation exposure, but the process is complicated. Deaths resulting from exposure while working at the factories and the compensation process for survivors begs the question: How much is a life worth? As the death toll mounts, nuclear weapons workers must decide whether their jobs are worth it.
â€œIrradiated,â€ a December 11, 2015 special report published by McClatchy, offers an unprecedented look at the costs of war and the risks of a strong defense. Set in 10 states, the report uses federal records to chronicle the deaths of at least 33,480 nuclear workers….
The number of deaths has never been disclosed by federal officials. It looms large as the nation prepares for its second nuclear age, with a $1 trillion plan to modernize its nuclear weapons over the next 30 years.
McClatchy determined the count after analyzing more than 70 million records in a database obtained from the U.S. Department of Labor under the Freedom of Information Act. It includes all workers who are dead after they or their survivors received compensation under a special fund created in 2001 to help those who got sick in the construction of Americaâ€™s nuclear arsenal.
A total of 107,394 workers have been diagnosed with cancers and other diseases after building the nationâ€™s nuclear stockpile over the last seven decades. The project includes an interactive database that offers details on all 107,394 workers.
McClatchyâ€™s year-long investigation puts readers in the living rooms of sick workers in South Carolina, on a picket line in Texas, and at a cemetery in Tennessee. It includes interviews with more than 100 workers, government officials, experts and activists across the country.
[Part of just one victimâ€™s story: â€œAfter working 17 years at the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant, just across the Georgia state line in South Carolina, Smitty found out on Sept. 11, 2008, 10 years after he retired, that he had multiple myeloma, a cancer. Just like 54,005 other workers who have tried to get help from the federal government after getting sick at a nuclear weapons plant, Smitty never got a penny.â€]
Among the Special Reportâ€™s Findings
â€¢ McClatchy can report for the first time that the great push to win the Cold War has left a legacy of death on American soil: At least 33,480 former nuclear workers who received compensation are dead. The death toll is more than four times the number of American casualties in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
â€¢ Federal officials greatly underestimated how sick the US nuclear workforce would become. At first, the government predicted the program would serve only 3,000 people at an annual cost of $120 million. Fourteen years later, taxpayers have spent sevenfold that estimate, $12 billion, on payouts and medical expenses for more than 53,000 workers.
â€¢ Even with the ballooning costs, fewer than half of those whoâ€™ve applied have received any money. Workers complain that theyâ€™re often left in bureaucratic limbo, flummoxed by who gets payments, frustrated by long wait times and overwhelmed by paperwork.
â€¢ Despite the cancers and other illnesses among nuclear workers, the government wants to save money by slashing current employeesâ€™ health plans, retirement benefits and sick leave.
â€¢ Stronger safety standards have not stopped accidents or day-to-day radiation exposure. More than 186,000 workers have been exposed since 2001, all but ensuring a new generation of claimants. And to date, the government has paid $11 million to 118 workers who began working at nuclear weapons facilities after 2001.
McClatchy reported the project in partnership with The Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, a nonprofit media center based in New York City. Three journalists from McClatchyâ€™s Washington Bureau â€” Rob Hotakainen, Lindsay Wise and Samantha Ehlinger â€” reported the project, along with Frank Matt from The Investigative Fund. Other reporters contributing included Mike Fitzgerald of the Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois, Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman, Sammy Fretwell of The State of Columbia, SC, Yamil Berard of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Scott Canon of the Kansas City Star, and Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald in Washington state. McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher edited the project.
*The McClatchy Company, having purchased Knight-Ridder in 2006, owns 29 daily newspapers and is the third largest newspaper publisher in the United States.
**A link to the full report â€œIrradiatedâ€ (http://media.mcclatchydc.com/static/features/irradiated/) is at the Nukewatch website, nukewatchinfo.org .Î¦
Nukewatch, based ten miles east of Luck, Wisconsin, evolved as a project of The Progressive Foundation. Nukewatch functions as an independent action group working for peace and justice, with a primary focus on the nuclear industry. The organization’s various projects bring critical attention to the locations, movements, dangers, and the politics of nuclear weapons, nuclear power and radioactive wastes. Staff and volunteers advocate nonviolence in the spirit of the civil rights movement in education and action to abolish nuclearism.