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January 27, 2003
Retired Nuclear Sub Workers Seek Federal Comp
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January 27, 2003

Retired workers who worked at a nuclear facility that built nuclear propulsion equipment for the Navy are trying to rally support to include them in a federal program that compensates workers who became ill from overexposure to radioactive materials, the Associated Press reports.

Former workers of Westinghouse Government Services Co. in Cheswick, Penn. plan to urge Congress to include their facility among those covered under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which gives $150,000 and medical care to Cold-War era workers who became ill from overexposure to radiation or beryllium, according to the AP.

Thus far, the program covers workers who were employed at an approved Energy Department facility or atomic weapons company during the arms build-up, according to Kevin Davis, a spokesman for the Office of Naval Reactors. The retired machinists and maintenance workers say they built reactors for the Navy's atomic submarines. The Cheswick plant was categorized as a commercial nuclear facility and didn't qualify for the program, the AP reports.

"They're compensating the people who made the bullet, not the gun that shot the bullet," says retired maintenance worker Alan Beattie, 70. Beattie has had benign tumors removed from his chest, according to the AP.

At least 120 workers have been treated for cancer or other illnesses, according to Anthony Cortazzo, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1914. Some have died, the AP reports.

Saying they wore cotton jumpsuits in and out of "hot zones," workers contend that safety systems hadn't fully developed to monitor and protect against radiation exposure. Occasionally, they'd wear a cotton mask.

"We were required to change and shower after work, but when we ate lunch, we ate with our clothes on," says one retired worker.

In order for the program to be expanded, Congress would need to pass a measure, according to the program's director, Pete Turcic. The retired workers hope Congress acts soon.

"The idea now is to outlive the decision," says Beattie.

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