The history of the federal government’s protection of Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear workers is a checkered one, but some new twists emerged last month as the Department reconsidered its health and safety management procedures.

DOE Compensation Program Problems

The program got off to a slow start, but adjustments were made along the way (see: Feds Act to Correct DOE Compensation Problems).

Then, in April of this year, concerns were raised about the quality of the scientific analysis used to assess worker claims under the program (see: Concerns Raised about DOE Compensation Program). In some cases, the same contractor employee who made assessments of and denied worker claims before DOE acknowledged its hazardous history was again assessing claims under the new program. This appearance of impropriety caused Rep. Jim Hostettler (R – IN) to ask the investigative arm of Congress to look into the situation. That investigation is on-going.

“The latest developments at DOE raise more questions about the Department’s commitment to the safety of its current workforce and the compensation of its former employees,” says Dr. Jim Melius, the Administrator of the New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Trust Fund, the Research Director at the LHSFNA and a member of the Presidential Advisory Board that oversees the compensation program for former DOE workers. “We hope the Department will re-affirm its commitment to health and safety and take internal action to avoid casting further doubts in the future.”

Over the last half of the 20th century, DOE workers were the ones that handled all aspects of America’s nuclear defense industry – everything from making the bombs to cleaning up the waste and the now-obsolete facilities. Many of these workers were Laborers.

In 2000, at the end of the Clinton Administration, the Department issued a self-criticism and apology to all these workers for its decades-long failure to protect them from nuclear contamination. As a result, DOE established a compensation program (see: Compensation for DOE Nuclear Workers) for the workers or, in many cases, their survivors.

Unrelated to problems identified in the administration of that program (see sidebar), the Department announced plans in late May to eliminate its Office of Environment, Safety and Health – the office responsible for establishing health and safety rules for the roughly 130,000 people who work for the DOE or its contractors. Under the proposal, the duties of the office would be rolled into other DOE agencies.