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HEARINGS FOR VICTIMS

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A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee will hold two hearings next month on a proposal to compensate victims of radiation from above-ground nuclear testing and to help families of uranium miners who got cancer from underground exposure.

Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations will hearing testimony on two bills he has submitted: HR2536, which would change the government's defense against suits, and HR2372, co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to provide compensation for test victims and miners.Chief U.S. District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins has ruled that open-air nuclear testing in the 1950s and '60s caused cancer among downwind residents. But compensation that he ordered was overturned by appeals courts on the ground that under "sovereign immunity," the government can't be sued for certain kinds of actions.

Owens, Hatch, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, and a Justice Department official will testify on the proposal to amend the sovereign immunity law. That hearing is set for Wednesday, Nov. 1.

On Nov. 8, witnesses will include cancer victims whose diseases are blamed on open-air nuclear testing in the 1950s and '60s; a sheep rancher and a uranium miner from Utah; a representative of the Navajo Indian Tribe; and a professor of law from George Washington University.

Owens said the legislation is moving forward, as promised by the chairman of the subcommittee.

"The fact that there will be two hearings is significant and shows there is good reason to be optimistic," he said. Momentum is building in Congress to "right this tragic wrong."