New Information Could Aid Pa. Nuclear Workers’ Claims

November 14, 2007

Cold War-era nuclear weapons workers hope new documentation about their exposure to radiation at Bethlehem Steel will bolster their efforts to receive compensation from the government.

Former steel worker Edwin Walker said he has discovered documents indicating that recycled uranium was rolled into fuel rods at the plant between 1949 and 1952, suggesting workers were exposed to more dangerous forms of radiation than previously thought.

Experts say recycled uranium contains more dangerous byproducts than natural uranium, which the government acknowledges rolling at Bethlehem Steel.

“These highly radioactive substances are not found in natural uranium and present an additional danger to workers and the public health,” said Walker, who helped organize the Bethlehem Steel Action Group to pursue claims under a federal program for workers or survivors who contracted cancer after unknowingly working in atomic weapons programs.

Workers approved for compensation get $150,000 plus medical benefits.

“He’s come up with some information that needs to be evaluated,” said James Ellenberger, a former union health and safety official who worked with the government in establishing the compensation program.

Nearly 73,000 workers or their survivors have filed claims under the program nationwide, according to the Labor Department.

If Walker’s contention that recycled uranium was rolled at Bethlehem Steel is true, the government could change the site profile that factors into whether claims are approved. The profile details what work was done at the site and how much radiation workers may have been exposed to.

Declassified documents show the government sent uranium initially to Simonds Saw and Steel in Lockport for rough-rolling, then shipped it to Bethlehem Steel for finish rolling. Walker said his documentation shows that recycled uranium went to Simonds Saw. Since the second step in the uranium rolling always occurred at Bethlehem, the recycled uranium must have been finish-rolled in Lackawanna, he said.

Larry Elliott of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Office of Compensation Analysis and Support said he is trying to verify Walker’s contention.

If the information is verified, Elliott said, the site profile would be changed and claims submitted by workers or surviving relatives would be revisited.


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Information from: The Buffalo News,

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