42 U.S.C. § 7384 - Findings; sense of Congress

Cite as42 U.S.C. § 7384

(a) Findings

The Congress finds the following:

(1) Since World War II, Federal nuclear activities have been explicitly recognized under Federal law as activities that are ultra-hazardous. Nuclear weapons production and testing have involved unique dangers, including potential catastrophic nuclear accidents that private insurance carriers have not covered and recurring exposures to radioactive substances and beryllium that, even in small amounts, can cause medical harm.

(2) Since the inception of the nuclear weapons program and for several decades afterwards, a large number of nuclear weapons workers at sites of the Department of Energy and at sites of vendors who supplied the Cold War effort were put at risk without their knowledge and consent for reasons that, documents reveal, were driven by fears of adverse publicity, liability, and employee demands for hazardous duty pay.

(3) Many previously secret records have documented unmonitored exposures to radiation and beryllium and continuing problems at these sites across the Nation, at which the Department of Energy and its predecessor agencies have been, since World War II, self-regulating with respect to nuclear safety and occupational safety and health. No other hazardous Federal activity has been permitted to be carried out under such sweeping powers of self-regulation.

(4) The policy of the Department of Energy has been to litigate occupational illness claims, which has deterred workers from filing workers' compensation claims and has imposed major financial burdens for such employees who have sought compensation. Contractors of the Department have been held harmless and the employees have been denied workers' compensation coverage for occupational disease.

(5) Over the past 20 years, more than two dozen scientific findings have emerged that indicate that certain of such employees are experiencing increased risks of dying from cancer and non-malignant diseases. Several of these studies have also established a correlation between excess diseases and exposure to radiation and beryllium.

(6) While linking exposure to occupational hazards with the development of occupational disease is sometimes difficult, scientific evidence supports the conclusion that occupational exposure to dust particles or vapor of beryllium can cause beryllium sensitivity and chronic beryllium disease. Furthermore, studies indicate than 98 percent of radiation-induced cancers within the nuclear weapons complex have occurred at dose levels below existing maximum safe thresholds.

(7) Existing information indicates that State workers' compensation programs do not provide a uniform means of ensuring adequate compensation for the types of occupational illnesses and diseases that relate to the employees at those sites.

(8) To ensure fairness and equity, the civilian men and women who, over the past 50 years, have performed duties uniquely related to the nuclear weapons production and testing programs of the Department of Energy and its predecessor agencies should have efficient, uniform, and adequate compensation for beryllium-related health conditions and radiation-related health conditions.

(9) On April 12, 2000, the Secretary of Energy announced that the Administration intended to seek compensation for individuals with a broad range of work-related illnesses throughout the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons complex.

(10) However, as of October 2, 2000, the Administration has failed to provide Congress with the necessary legislative and budget proposals to enact the promised compensation program.

(b) Sense of Congress

It is the sense of Congress that-

(1) a program should be established to provide compensation to covered employees;

(2) a fund for payment of such compensation should be established on the books of the Treasury;

(3) payments from that fund should be made only after-

(A) the identification of employees of the Department of Energy (including its predecessor agencies), and of contractors of the Department, who may be members of the group of covered employees;

(B) the establishment of a process to receive and administer claims for compensation for disability or death of covered employees;

(C) the submittal by the President of a legislative proposal for compensation of such employees that includes the estimated annual budget resources for that compensation; and

(D) consideration by the Congress of the legislative proposal submitted by the President; and

(4) payments from that fund should commence not later than fiscal year 2002.

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