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PANEL SAYS GOVERNMENT OWES N-VICTIMS

SHARE PANEL SAYS GOVERNMENT OWES N-VICTIMS

Just before the Jewish day of atonement began Tuesday, a presidential panel urged the government to atone for exposing thousands of Americans to secret radiation experiments - scores of which occurred in Utah.

But victims groups complained President's Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments and its 1,000 page final report still bring them little relief or satisfaction.It comes after an 18-month probe by the 14-member panel of scientists, which helped disclose 4,000 radiation experiments nationwide involving tens of thousands of people.

The report recommends a framework for compensation that might make payments available - and easier to obtain - for more Utah downwind cancer victims of Nevada atomic bomb fallout, or for uranium miners intentionally endangered by the government.

But it might make it more difficult to identify or study effects on people involved in other Utah radiation tests, ranging from experiments with radiological weapons at Dugway Proving Ground to medical experiments with Utah State Prison inmates.

Clinton on Tuesday apologized to the unwitting victims. "When the government does wrong, we have a moral responsibility to admit it," Clinton said.

He issued the apology after accepting an advisory panel's report.

The report says those tests likely created relatively little risk, so little need exists to identify participants and conduct expensive studies on possible long-term effects they suffered.

Dan Guttman, executive director of the committee, said it recommends using as the basic measure of whether people deserve compensation a 1990 law passed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and former Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, that made payments available to atomic downwinders and uranium miners.

"We figured that anybody who had at least the same level of exposure or risk as those people deserves to be treated equally," Guttman told the Deseret News.

Downwinder groups have long complained that Congressional politics narrowly limited payments to residents of too few southern Utah counties while much of the state received fallout - or that victims of some types of cancer were unjustly excluded.

An aide to Hatch said he will look closely at the report to see if it may provide the political power needed to amend his 1990 law. He said Hatch will push to compensate all deserving Utahns, but expansion may be difficult with tight budgets.

A problem with the committee's framework, however, is that the panel did not have the time, money or staff to research itself whichspecific groups had sufficient exposure to qualify for compensation - and left that to later studies to determine.

It said it found only three sets of experiments where harm was so clear that participants' families obviously deserved compensation and apologies.

They included 18 people injected with plutonium without their knowledge, another man (yet to be identified) similarly injected with radioactive zirconium and numerous people given total body irradiation during World War II.

Unresolved, therefore, is whether people living near nuclear production facilities (where radioactive gases were sometimes released), hospitalized children who were fed radioactive food and others should be compensated.

Victims upset

That upset Cedar City resident Janet Gordon, chairwoman of the National Committee for Radiation Victims. "They could have pushed for continuation of the committee saying such study was needed - but they didn't. That doesn't help us much."

She was also upset that the committee didn't formally declare people suffering cancer from atomic bomb tests as victims of "experiments."

Documents uncovered by the committee showed among reasons for the tests was the study of fallout in downwind populated areas - which the government had previously denied. She said that made Utahns intentional guinea pigs.

The presidential panel said the government should also make it easier for uranium miners to apply for compensation. "The evidence is overwhelming that they were exposed intentionally to high levels of radiation - which the government could have prevented - and hundreds died from it," Guttman said.

However, he said government implementation of the 1990 Hatch-Owens bill has made it nearly impossible for many of them to receive payments, because they must prove they never smoked, or prove certain levels of exposure with records that don't exist.

"We're saying because of the high risk they faced, the process should be made much easier - like simply showing they worked for a certain period in the mines, such as a year," Guttman said.

Secrecy concerns

The committee also said it figured that Dugway Proving Ground conducted 65 tests, in the 1940s and '50s, of weapons to spread radioactive dust via bombs and airplane drops. The Deseret News uncovered many of them through Freedom of Information requests.

It said they released about 13,000 curies of radiation. (The Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident released only 15 curies).

The Dugway tests are among those where hazards were likely minor enough that the committee feels it is not necessary to try to identify participants and conduct studies on possible long-term effects.

Guttman said of major concern to the committee about the Dugway experiments was the government secrecy behind them.

He said documents clearly show the tests and others like them were kept secret, not because of national security risks, but for fear of bad publicity.

Priso tests

The final report makes little mention of a dozen University of Utah tests that injected radioactive phosphorus into some Utah State Prison inmates for tests on white blood cells.

The committee said most such experiments with tracer amounts of radiation conducted nationwide were safe.

Wishing the committee had addressed the Utah tests more was Rosalie Jones of West Jordan, a leader of relatives of former inmates who blame the tests for causing birth defects in children and debilitating diseases among some test participants.

"At least they helped us find out more about the tests," she said. "But I still don't know how much radiation was used. None of the documents say. . .. You can't convince me, though, that these experiments didn't kill my baby" - one of several that inmates' wives had born with severe birth defects.