Republican Leaders at Odds Over Nuclear Worker Compensation Program

The Bush administration is clashing with Republicans in Congress over a compensation program for workers at nuclear facilities sickened by exposure to radiation, asbestos, and other toxic substances. As of July, the Energy Department had paid out only $700,000 of the $95 million it has received since the program was created, to only 31 of the roughly 25,000 claims filed. The sick workers are, naturally, upset. Senate Republicans have ushered through an amendment to a defense bill that would overhaul the program, putting responsibility for compensation directly with the Labor Department rather than with Energy Department contractors, and would require the feds to perform environmental studies of the facilities. Backers include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). But the White House opposes the amendment, much to the bewilderment of some in Congress. “These are our Cold War veterans,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “They were working in an environment that they thought was safe. It wasn’t safe.”