An appeal by Hanford contractors, has been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court clearing the way for a settlement with almost 2,000 people exposed to radiation during the Manhattan Project and the early years of the Cold War.
The contractors – E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., General Electric Co. and UNC Nuclear Industries Inc. – were challenging a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last spring that sided largely with the plaintiffs.
The people exposed to radiation lived in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and Idaho, down wind of the Hanford nuclear reservation, as the U.S. government was developing the first atomic bombs in the 1940s. They have spent nearly two decades trying to win compensation for thyroid cancer and other conditions that they say were caused by the exposure.
The plaintiffs have not agreed to a settlement offer by the contractors that would compensate them based on the amount of radiation they likely received and the illnesses they have.
The contractors are indemnified by the government in an agreement that dates to the Manhattan Project.
In a ruling last spring, the 9th Circuit upheld monetary awards for two “bellwether” plaintiffs with thyroid cancer, rejected the contractors’ claim of immunity from lawsuits because they were working for the government, and ruled the deadline for individuals pursuing claims had not expired – denying the contractors’ statute of limitation claims.
The government did not disclose the releases of radioactive iodine 131 at Hanford until 1986, when Energy Department reports were declassified. Two environmental groups and The Spokesman-Review had sought the reports under the Freedom of Information Act.
The iodine 131, a byproduct of plutonium production, settled on fields and was ingested by cows, which passed on the radiation to the small thyroid glands of babies and children when they drank milk.
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