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USA government resists paying compensation to nuclear workers made ill by ionising radiation

the labor department ignored overwhelming evidence that her husband became sick from working at SRS

the system has become hard to navigate, with the government often fighting tooth-and-nail against the workers they were supposed to help

More than 2,200 workers had spent five years or more going through the exhaustive claims process, according to McClatchy’s 2015 “Irradiated’’ series. Some workers who filed for benefits died while awaiting decisions from the government, McClatchy found.

Death and despair. How the feds refused to help a nuclear worker’s family in SC, The State, BY SAMMY FRETWELL, December18, 2020 Every time Jerry Bolen came home from a construction job at the local nuclear weapons complex, he took off his dusty coveralls before stepping into the house he shared with his wife and children.

It was a precaution against tracking hazardous, radioactive materials into the family’s home in rural Barnwell County, says his widow, recalling how she would gingerly place the contaminated garment into the washing machine.

But while the effort protected the couple’s three kids, Jerry Bolen suffered. The long days he spent working at the Savannah River Site, exposed to chemicals and radiation, eventually killed him, his widow says.

Now, an exasperated Carolyn Bolen has sued the U.S. Department of Labor following a 13-year battle with the government over whether the family should receive compensation for the cancer that took Jerry Bolen’s life in 2006.

Her story is a familiar one. Many people who worked at SRS have complained for years that a federal compensation program for sick workers and their families is a bureaucratic morass that takes too long to maneuver and often doesn’t provide the benefits they were promised.

In Carolyn Bolen’s case, however, she was turned down so many times for benefits through the federal program that she exhausted all her appeals, prompting the federal lawsuit, she and her lawyers say.

The Nov. 20 suit against the labor department is among a handful of cases in South Carolina by ex-SRS workers and their families who were denied benefits in recent years through the federal compensation program, said Bolen’s lawyers, who specialize in helping sick workers.

Bolen’s attorneys said the labor department ignored overwhelming evidence that her husband became sick from working at SRS. They are seeking $275,000, the maximum she can get under the program. Other suits are expected as more workers or their loved ones are turned down by the government, said attorneys Warren Johnson and Josh Fester.

The federal government launched the compensation program two decades ago after conceding that employment at nuclear weapons sites likely made some of the workers ill. It was designed to help former employees who got sick working in U.S. nuclear sites during the Cold War.

To receive compensation, workers or their families must show that radiation on the site was as likely as not to have caused cancer or a handful of other ailments. Or, in some cases, they must show that people worked on the site during times when records of exposure are difficult to find.

The nuclear compensation program provides benefits to sick workers, but in some cases, covers their families after the person has passed away, such as with Bolen.

Unfortunately, the system has become hard to navigate, with the government often fighting tooth-and-nail against the workers they were supposed to help, Johnson said. Taking legal action to force federal compensation shouldn’t be necessary, said Johnson and Fester, whose law practice has represented sick SRS workers for years.

“This was supposed to be a way to make up for, or show our gratitude to these patriotic workers,’’ Johnson said of the compensation program. “They gave their health for our sake for the Cold War. We can at least offset the burden, by giving financial security, knowing they aren’t leaving a burden on their wives and children.’’………..

In 2015, the labor department told The State and the McClatchy Co. the program had approved more than 40 percent of the claims made by nuclear workers and their families, far more than the 25 percent the government anticipated when the program launched in 2001. The labor department said Friday the approval rate nationally is now more than 50 percent.

Even so, many claims don’t get approved and the wait for answers can be time-consuming. More than 2,200 workers had spent five years or more going through the exhaustive claims process, according to McClatchy’s 2015 “Irradiated’’ series. Some workers who filed for benefits died while awaiting decisions from the government, McClatchy found.

Earlier this month, a federal panel considered a proposal, advocated by Johnson, that could make it easier for thousands of workers and their families to receive benefits. But the board put off a decision until next year…………

he never complained about the long hours or said much about hazardous conditions at the site. That was important to the federal government because, during the Cold War, much of the work on the Savannah River Site needed to be kept confidential, family members say.

Tim Bolen, his son, said he never knew his father worked at SRS until just a few weeks before his death. But Carolyn Bolen did.

She remembers the days her husband came home with his coveralls coated in “white stuff’’ that she says came from the Savannah River Site. Bolen never knew what the material was, but she was always wary of the potential danger. And her husband occasionally offered clues that the white material came from SRS, she said……….

The site, a 310-square-mile complex, contains an array of nuclear production areas with some of the most toxic substances in the world.

Among them is a tank farm, which houses nuclear waste deadly enough to rapidly kill a person directly exposed to it. Carolyn Bolen’s lawsuit says her husband worked for a while in the tank farm area and another section where radioactive material is used.

The Savannah River Site, located near the Georgia border outside Aiken, was part of the national effort to produce atomic weapons between World War II and the early 1990s. Nationally, the effort employed some 600,000 people, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office……

After working periodically at SRS through the years, Jerry Bolen began to feel an uncomfortable sensation in the late 1990s that he couldn’t shake.

Something was wrong with his bladder. During trips to the bathroom, bloody urine flowed into the toilet and a sharp sting caused him to gasp. The pain was so bad, at times, that Carolyn Bolen could hear her husband’s cries throughout the house.

“He just screamed for mercy,’’ she said.

The discomfort sent him to a doctor, where the family learned the man who had faithfully kept a roof over their heads and food on the table was gravely ill. He had bladder and prostate cancer…….

In August 2006, Jerry “Little Mac’’ Bolen died at the age of 60, leaving his wife and family wondering how the once robust man could slip from their world. It didn’t seem right that a man so young and energetic had become so sick, family members say. …….

MISSING RECORDS

Jerry Bolen’s time at SRS, and his devotion to his family, haven’t impressed federal officials who have considered whether his family is eligible for benefits through the labor department’s sick worker compensation program. They’re skeptical an award to his widow is warranted, saying they need more evidence.

An obstacle some workers face is gaining access to records that could show there is at least a 50 percent chance radiation caused cancer they developed after working at the Savannah River Site, a complex developed in the early 1950s.

Many records either can’t be located, are inaccurate or don’t exist, meaning workers can’t prove how many days they worked on site, or the amount of radioactive material they might have been exposed to.

That’s a particular concern for subcontractors like Bolen, who did not work directly for the government or for the major contractors hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to run the site. Subcontractors often were local construction companies brought in to do specific jobs.

Johnson and Fester said records of subcontractors often are harder to find than those for energy department workers.

In Bolen’s case, the labor department turned down the family’s claim for benefits because “the submitted documentation does not establish covered SRS employment for the employee,’’ according to the federal lawsuit Carolyn Bolen filed. In declining comment on the Bolen case, a Department of Labor spokeswoman said Friday that claims can be turned down for a variety of reasons…..

Bolen’s lawsuit, however, said the labor department simply dismissed credible evidence that would prove the case. Jerry Bolen, for instance, worked with acquaintances or for his brothers’ construction businesses in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, according to five affidavits filed in Carolyn Bolen’s federal lawsuit last month.

Those affidavits, provided by family and friends who worked with Jerry Bolen, were combined with SRS identification badges issued in his name, and records of radiation doses the family ran across in his belongings. Some material was unearthed and provided to the government after the labor department had initially denied requests for compensation.

Despite the evidence, the Department of Labor ruled against the Bolen family’s request for reconsideration this past summer. Her case had been turned down at least three times before 2020.

“The department simply ignored additional evidence that Mr. Bolen was present at the site before 1968 and after Jan. 24, 1969,’’ the lawsuit said. “Mrs. Bolen’s request for reconsideration further asserts the department misapplied the law in determining covered employment by holding Mrs. Bolen to an impossible burden of proof.’’

While the Bolens have been turned down repeatedly in seeking compensation, Johnson and Fester are hoping the lawsuit will succeed. Fester said one of the five other cases the firm has filed resulted in a verdict that would have required payment to a sick worker. But the worker died before benefits were dispersed.

In the meantime, Fester and Johnson are pushing the federal government to approve a proposal that could open up benefits to thousands of people who worked at the Savannah River Site.

Under federal law, the government can acknowledge that it is too difficult to find records during certain years that would prove a person’s case for compensation for radiation-related cancer. As a result, the government can declare periods of years free of the need to provide records showing that a person likely got cancer from working at SRS.

The government already has done that for the time from 1953 to fall 1972. Some ex-workers at SRS, who were employed there for at least 250 days between these times, are eligible for benefits without producing extensive documentation about exposure to radioactive materials.

Now, a federal advisory board is considering whether to extend that to cover up to 1990 for some types of workers at SRS. It’s clear that Jerry Bolen worked well above 250 days between 1972 and 1990 at the site, so it’s possible his family could gain compensation if the time period is expanded to 1990, Johnson and Fester said.

A decision, under consideration for years, could be rendered as early as February if the federal advisory board recommends expanding the period. Such a decision ultimately would be made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the labor department said Friday.

Carolyn Bolen said a favorable decision — and her lawsuit — would mean a lot to many people who need help after they or their loved ones got sick at SRS.

“There are a lot of poor people in this world, and they don’t have the money like the president or the people in the White House,’’ she said. “I ain’t just talking about myself. There are people with needs.’’

This story has been updated with information provided Friday Dec. 18, 2020 by the U.S. Department of Labor.  https://www.thestate.com/news/local/environment/article247828620.html

 

December 19, 2020 Posted by | employment, health, investigative journalism, Legal, Reference, USA | 1 Comment

34 years later, food crops near Chernobyl still contain ionising radiation

Unsafe levels of radiation found in Chernobyl crops, By Harry Baker – Staff Writer   https://www.livescience.com/chernobyl-radioactive-isotopes-crops.html19 December 20, The effects of the explosive 1986 disaster can still be seen in nearby crops.

Crops grown near the Chernobyl nuclear site in Ukraine are still contaminated with radiation from the explosive 1986 disaster.

In a new study, researchers found that wheat, rye, oats and barley grown in this area contained two radioactive isotopes — strontium 90 and cesium 137 — that were above safe consumption limits. Radioactive isotopes are elements that have increased masses and release excess energy as a result.

“Our findings point to ongoing contamination and human exposure, compounded by lack of official routine monitoring,” study author David Santillo, an environmental forensic scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter, said in a statement, referring to the fact that the government suspended its radioactive goods monitoring program in 2013.

Santillo and his colleagues, in collaboration with researchers from the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology, analyzed 116 grain samples, collected between 2011 and 2019, from the Ivankiv district of Ukraine — about 31 miles (50 kilometers) south of the nuclear plant.

This area is outside of Chernobyl’s “exclusion zone,” which is a 30 mile (48 km) radius around the plant that was evacuated in 1986 and has remained unoccupied. They found radioactive isotopes, predominantly strontium 90, were above safe consumption level in 48% of samples. They also found that wood samples collected from the same region between 2015 and 2019, had strontium 90 levels above the safe limit for firewood.

The researchers believe that the lingering radiation in the wood, in particular, may be the reason for the continued contamination of crops, almost 35 years after the disaster. When analyzing the wood ash from domestic wood-burning ovens, they found strontium 90 levels that were 25 times higher than the safe limit. Locals use this ash, as well as ash from the local thermal power plant (TPP), to fertilize their crops, which continues to cycle the radiation through their soil.

However, computer simulations suggest that it could be possible to grow crops in the region at “safe” levels if this process of repeated contamination ceased. The researchers are now calling for the Ukrainian government to reinstate its monitoring program and create a system for properly disposing of radioactive ash.

“Contamination of grain and wood grown in the Ivankiv district remains of major concern and deserves further urgent investigation,” study author Valery Kashparov, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology, said in the statement. “Similarly, further research is urgently needed to assess the effects of the Ivankiv TPP on the environment and local residents, which still remain mostly unknown.”

The findings were published on Dec. 17 in the journal Environment International.

Originally published on Live Science.

December 19, 2020 Posted by | environment, radiation, Ukraine | Leave a comment

In a massive cyber-attack, U.S. nuclear agency has been hacked

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Agency Hacked as Part of Massive Cyber-Attack,  TIME

DECEMBER 17, 2020 

The U.S. nuclear weapons agency and at least three states were hacked as part of a suspected Russian cyber-attack that struck a number of federal government agencies, according to people with knowledge of the matter, indicating widening reach of one of the biggest cybersecurity breaches in recent memory.

Microsoft said that its systems were also exposed as part of the attack.

Hackers with ties to the Russian government are suspected to be behind a well coordinated attack that took advantage of weaknesses in the U.S. supply chain to penetrate several federal agencies, including departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce and State. While many details are still unclear, the hackers are believed to have gained access to networks by installing malicious code in a widely used software program from SolarWinds Corp., whose customers include government agencies and Fortune 500 companies, according to the company and cybersecurity experts.

“This is a patient, well-resourced, and focused adversary that has sustained long duration activity on victim networks,” the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a bulletin that signaled widening alarm over the the breach. The hackers posed a “grave risk” to federal, state and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure and the private sector, the bulletin said. The agency said the attackers demonstrated “sophistication and complex tradecraft.”

The Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains America’s nuclear stockpile, were targeted as part of the larger attack, according to a person familiar with the matter. An ongoing investigation has found the hack didn’t affect “mission-essential national security functions,” Shaylyn Hynes, a Department of Energy spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“At this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks only,” Hynes said. The hack of the nuclear agency was reported earlier by Politico.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said the company had found malicious code “in our environment, which we isolated and removed.”……..

Biden’s Pledge

While President Donald Trump has yet to publicly address the hack, President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement Thursday on “what appears to be a massive cybersecurity breach affecting potentially thousands of victims, including U.S. companies and federal government entities.”

“I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office,” Biden said, pledging to impose “substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks.”

Russia has denied any involvement in the attack……… https://time.com/5922897/us-nuclear-weapons-energy-hacked/

December 19, 2020 Posted by | incidents, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | Leave a comment

Mutsu Mayor Soichiro Miyashita made it clear that spent nuclear fuel facility will not go ahead.

December 19, 2020 Posted by | Japan, politics, wastes | Leave a comment

Big boasts for small nuclear reactors on ships – but a recipe for disaster?

Floating ‘mini-nukes’ could power countries by 2025, says startup, Danish company plans to fit ships with small nuclear reactors to send energy to developing countries,  Guardian, Jillian Ambrose, 18 Dec 2020 
Floating barges fitted with advanced nuclear reactors could begin powering developing nations by the mid-2020s, according to a Danish startup company.Seaborg Technologies believes it can make cheap nuclear electricity a viable alternative to fossil fuels across the developing world as soon as 2025……..

Seaborg has raised about €20m (£18.3m) from private investors, including the Danish retail billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, and received the first of the necessary regulatory approvals within a four-phase process from the American Bureau of Shipping this week. ….

Seaborg hopes to begin taking orders by the end of 2022 for the nuclear barges, which would be built in South Korean shipyards and towed to coastlines where they could be anchored for up to 24 years, he said. ……….

Seaborg’s design would be one of the first examples of a commercially available nuclear barge used to provide electricity to the mainland.

Chris Gadomski, a nuclear analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “The concept of a floating nuclear power plant has been around for a long time, and makes a lot of sense. But there are concerns.” There was inherent risk involved with nuclear reactor technologies and floating power plants, so combining to two could raise serious questions for investors and governments, he said.

“In places like the Philippines and Indonesia it makes a lot of sense. But it wasn’t so long ago that the Philippines was the site of a major tsunami, and I don’t know how you would hedge against a risk like that,” he added.

Jan Haverkamp, from Greenpeace, said floating reactors were “a recipe for disaster” including “all of the flaws and risks of larger land-based nuclear power stations”. “On top of that, they face extra risks from the unpredictability of operation in coastal areas and transport – particularly in a loaded state – over the high seas. Think storms, think tsunamis,” he said. ……..https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/17/floating-mini-nukes-could-power-countries-by-2025-says-startup

December 19, 2020 Posted by | Denmark, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Hacking of U.S. nuclear weapons agency went undetected for 9 months

December 19, 2020 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

NuScale exultant that their scam small nuclear reactors have conned the Canadian government

December 19, 2020 Posted by | Canada, politics | Leave a comment