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Ohio Uranium Contamination Reported

September 16, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Past and present employees sickened by radiation poisoning at a federal uranium enrichment plant in Kentucky would be compensated under a multimillion-dollar plan being proposed by the Energy Department.

A department spokeswoman said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson would announce the proposal during a visit today to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

``He wants to hear from the Paducah community firsthand,″ spokeswoman Natalie Wymer said Wednesday night.

Three plant workers have alleged in a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that employees at the plant were unknowingly exposed to plutonium for 23 years.

The Washington Post reported in today’s editions that Richardson would propose spending more than $20 million in compensation for current and former employees who developed specific radiation-related cancers after working at the plant.

Richardson also was proposing that Congress spend an additional $21.8 million for accelerated cleanup and medical monitoring of workers at the Paducah factory, as well as sister plants in Ohio and Tennessee.

The plant has been producing enriched uranium since 1952. The uranium, once used in the manufacture of atomic weapons, now is used in nuclear power reactors in the United States and around the world.

Wymer said Richardson was scheduled to hold a community meeting at Paducah tonight. He was to spend Friday morning meeting with factory employees, past and present and labor representatives.

``The Department of Energy has been aggressively working to answer questions and concerns, and the secretary, as part of the community meeting will provide an update on our work to date,″ she said.

Richardson’s visit comes two days after his office released preliminary findings for a lawsuit-prompted investigation into the plant’s safety practices. A team of federal inspectors found no impending health hazards to workers or the public but criticized the site’s contamination-control practices.

The Energy Department owned and operated the Paducah plant until 1993, when production was turned over to the U.S. Enrichment Corp., an entity created by Congress under the National Energy Policy Act of 1992.

The department now focuses its efforts on the environmental restoration of the plant site and the management of waste generated there.

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