Law securing compensation for Nevada Test Site workers goes into effect today
May 5, 2010
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s efforts to secure
compensation for Nevada Test Site employees who contracted cancer from their
work saw a tremendous victory today when workers employed at the Test Site
during the underground testing years between January 1, 1963 through December
31, 1992 were added to the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC).
Under the SEC, workers employed during the underground testing years, for a
number of work days aggregating at least 250 days, and with 1 of 22 designated
radiogenic cancers will be eligible for expedited compensation ranging from
$150,000 to $400,000 plus medical benefits.
Senator Reid initiated the process in February 2007, when he helped several NTS
workers and survivors submit an SEC petition for the underground testing years.
Since then, Reid has monitored the petition’s progress, testified on
behalf of NTS workers and their families, and written the Advisory Board and
governing agencies. In 2006, Reid was instrumental in establishing the
above ground testing years from 1951-1962 at the Nevada Test Site as a part of
According to the Department of Labor, approximately 1,365 NTS claims may be
eligible for compensation under this SEC.
Below is Reid’s statement for the record as submitted:
“Mr. President, I rise today to acknowledge an important achievement for
Nevada’s Cold War veterans and their families. These individuals served
their country at the Nevada Test Site, where over one thousand nuclear weapons
detonations took place over four decades of nuclear testing. The work at
the Nevada Test Site (NTS) helped America win the Cold War, but it also left
thousands of workers with debilitating cancers. Beginning today, many of
these workers will now be eligible for automatic compensation, putting an end
to years of bureaucratic nightmares and red tape.
“ On February 19, 1952, the Nevada Test Site was created to serve as the
nation’s nuclear test site. 174 atmospheric and underground tests were
performed there before the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 banned all
atmospheric, space, and sub-sea nuclear weapons testing. Another 754
tests were completed before the United States established a moratorium on nuclear
weapons testing in 1992. The vast majority of testing in this period took
place underground, in a network of tunnels and shafts, although some
non-weapons nuclear testing continued to take place above ground. Even though
these tunnels were designed to contain the radiation produced by the tests,
most of the underground detonations did release radiation that reached NTS
“In 2000, after a number of my colleagues and I had begun to hear disturbing
stories from our constituents about illnesses they had gotten from their
nuclear weapons work and their inability to get any financial compensation from
the government, we introduced and passed the Energy Employees Occupational
Illness Compensation Act. This legislation was designed to allow thousands
of America’s Cold War veterans who had worked for the Department of Energy to
receive compensation that would not only help pay their medical bills but would
also honor the sacrifices they and their families had made for their country.
“Unfortunately, it soon became clear that even with this new law, it would not
be easy for many workers to get the compensation they deserved. In 2005,
I began to hear from workers and survivors complaining that they were being put
through a seemingly endless stream of bureaucratic red tape only to be denied
in the end. I heard stories about workers who were encouraged to remove
their radiation detection devices so that they could continue to work even
after reaching the maximum allowable radiation levels, yet their records showed
zero radiation exposures year after year. I was enraged that these
workers were denied compensation simply because their employer failed to keep
an accurate account of how much radiation each worker was exposed to, so I
embarked upon a three-pronged strategy to add NTS workers to the Special
Exposure Cohort (SEC) making them eligible for automatic compensation. I
immediately wrote a letter to President Bush asking for his Administration to
rectify this horrible wrong, and for some NTS workers, the situation was set
right the next year.
“In 2006, employees who had worked at NTS for at least 250 days from 1951 to
1962, or the atmospheric testing years, saw a tremendous victory. They
were designated as part of a new Special Exposure Cohort (SEC). However,
the sacrifices of NTS workers from the years of underground testing and their
families went largely unacknowledged, until now. Thanks to the new SEC
which goes into effect today, some measure of justice will be brought to these
employees of NTS and their families.
“Unfortunately, this new SEC will not put an end to the years of waiting for
all NTS workers. Some won’t be eligible for automatic compensation
because their cancer isn’t on the official list or because they worked less
than 250 days, even if they were present for a large release of radiation.
I will continue to fight to make sure each and every one of Nevada’s Cold
War veterans and their families get the compensation and justice they deserve
for the enormous personal sacrifices they have made for their country.
Still, I am very happy that today an estimated 1,365 claimants may be
eligible for automatic compensation under the new SEC.
“After submitting legislation to add the underground testing years to the SEC
in 2006, my office began the long and complicated process of working with
workers, survivors, and experts to submit an SEC petition. After much
hard work, on February 5, 2007, I joined with three Nevadans in submitting an
SEC petition arguing the scientific problems with the radiation dose
reconstruction process that was denying so many NTS workers and their families
the compensation and recognition they deserve. When the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) initially recommended that the petition
be denied, it was the tireless work of more than a dozen individuals standing
up for what is right that prevented the petition from being rejected
completely. It was as a team that we persevered to gain approval for the
petition and, with this approval, justice for the underground testing workers
and their families.
“Today’s victory would not have happened without the dedicated team of NTS
workers, their families, and others who fought for years to make this day
possible. I would like to take a moment to thank some of these people.
“First, I want to personally extend a heartfelt thank you to the three
petitioners who devoted their time, energy, and testimony to bring this issue
to the forefront. Thank you Lori Hunton, Paul Stednick, and Peter White.
Lori’s father, Oral Triplett worked at the Nevada Test Site and passed
away when she was only 16. Paul worked at the site from 1966 to 1994 as a
laborer and labor foreman. Peter worked as a laborer, pipe fitter, and
welder from 1985 to 1989. Each of these individuals provided invaluable
insight and support necessary to complete the petition process.
“I also want to thank Navor Valdez, Gene Campbell, Mary Bess Holloway Peterson,
William Cleghorn, Robert Lemons, Cooper Michael Boyd, Patricia Niemeier, and
John Funk, for sharing their stories about what really happened on the ground
“No thank you would be complete without acknowledging Richard Miller, formerly
of the Government Accountability Project, without whom this petition would never
have been filed.
“Finally, I send my heartfelt gratitude to all those who have worked at the
Nevada Test Site and their families. I especially would like to acknowledge
workers who passed away while fighting for benefits and their widows, widowers,
and children surviving them who took up the fight for their loved one.
Nevada’s Cold War heroes have made immeasurable contributions to our
nation’s security, and the sacrifices they have made – their health and their
lives – make it impossible for us to ever adequately thank them.”