Stewart Udall, the lead attorney for the fallout and uranium mining radiation victims, said Thursday he has more hope now than at any time in several years that Congress will grant some form of compensation to people hurt by the atomic weapons program of the 1950s.
A House bill to make compassionate payments to downwind victims of the atomic tests and underground uranium miners is tentatively scheduled for floor action June 5. The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee has reported a similar bill, and floor action on that side of the Capitol is likely after the House acts.Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., are sponsors of the Senate bill. Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is chief sponsor of the House version.
Udall briefed reporters on prospects for the bill, which in various forms has been before Congress since 1978 without success. He said opposition in the House is minor. In the Senate, the chief opponent, Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., has decided to support compensation for the miners after finding that 50 Wyoming miners may have been affected by unsafe conditions in mines in that state, Udall said.
Simpson has continued to oppose help for downwind civilians.
Udall said senators from six states and from both parties are now behind the bill.
He and Rex E. Lee, president of Brigham Young University, released the text of a joint letter they wrote the House and Senate judiciary committees, setting out the case for the bills as "a moral question concerning how our system of justice responds when the federal government, through misguided zeal, maims and kills innocent civilians."
The Supreme Court ruled that although radiation victims won cases in federal court, they were barred from collecting from the government because the government is immune from such suits. The courts suggested that Congress deal with the situation.
Lee and Udall wrote that the compensation bills would not create an additional entitlement program and that available scientific evidence was accepted by federal district judges as indicating the government harmed the plaintiffs.