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Cancer Compensation Programs for People Exposed to Radiation as Part of Nuclear Weapons Testing

Between 1945 and 1962, the United States tested nuclear weapons in the open air. Several other countries began above-ground nuclear testing during this time as well, with some continuing these tests up until 1980.

Most of the above-ground tests in the United States were done in the South Pacific and at the Nevada testing grounds, with a small number being done at the Trinity (New Mexico) and South Atlantic testing sites. Military maneuvers involving about 200,000 people were conducted as part of many of these tests. The tests exposed these people, as well as many others living in nearby areas, to different amounts of radiation. In addition, tens of thousands of uranium miners and workers at several nuclear weapons plant sites were exposed to radiation and other toxic substances.

There is little doubt that radiation exposure can cause cancer. This has become clear from studies of groups such as the survivors of the atomic blasts in Japan, where the risks of certain cancers such as leukemias and thyroid cancers were higher than normal, as well as from studies of people exposed to medical radiation and in some workplace settings. But it’s often hard to estimate the likelihood that a person exposed to radiation will develop cancer as a result of being exposed. Many factors influence this risk, including the type, amount, and route of radiation exposure. For example, people can be exposed to radioactive elements internally if they inhale or ingest them, as well as being exposed to external radiation sources. In addition, when exposures have occurred many years in the past, it’s often hard to know how much or what types of radiation exposure a person had.

Compensation for people who have been exposed to radiation

The US government has passed several laws to compensate military veterans, people who worked in the nuclear industry, and others exposed to radiation as part of nuclear testing programs who later develop certain types of cancer or other diseases.

Radiation Exposure Compensation Program

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Program is administered by the US Department of Justice. It provides payments to 3 groups of people:

Uranium miners, millers, and transporters

People who worked in these industries between 1942 and 1971 and who develop lung cancer, kidney cancer (in millers or transporters), or certain other conditions may be eligible for a lump sum payment of $100,000.

Onsite participants

People (including military personnel) who were present onsite during above-ground nuclear tests (at the Nevada, Trinity, Pacific, or South Atlantic test sites) and who later develop certain medical conditions may be entitled to a payment of $75,000. (Military personnel exposed to radiation at Hiroshima or Nagasaki are not eligible.)

The eligible conditions include cancers of the lung, thyroid, breast, esophagus, stomach, pharynx (throat), small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gallbladder, salivary gland, urinary bladder, brain, colon, ovary, and liver (unless related to cirrhosis or hepatitis B). Other cancers covered include leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.

Downwinders

People who lived or worked downwind of above-ground nuclear tests in certain counties in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona for at least 2 years during certain periods between 1951 and 1962 and who later develop certain medical conditions may be entitled to a payment of $50,000. The eligible cancers are the same as those for onsite participants.

For a more complete list of eligibility requirements and information on how to file a claim, contact the Department of Justice Radiation Exposure Compensation Program at 1-800-729-7327 (1-800-729-RECP) or visit their website at www.justice.gov/civil/common/reca.html

Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP) was established to provide lump-sum compensation and health benefits to eligible US Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons workers (including employees, former employees, contractors and subcontractors) and related workers, or lump-sum payments to certain survivors if a worker is deceased. Uranium miners, millers, and transporters, and certain other workers are also eligible for the program.

The EEOICP mainly covers people who worked for the DOE, but the program itself is run by the US Department of Labor.

Under Part B of the program, the EEOICP provides up to $150,000 and payment of medical expenses for DOE employees and contractors who either:

  • Developed cancer after working at certain DOE-related facilities, and the cancer is determined to be at least as likely as not related to that employment, or
  • Worked in certain facilities for at least 250 days before February 1, 1992 and then developed certain types of cancer or other diseases. The diseases covered include those caused by exposure to radiation, beryllium (a toxic metal), or silica dust.

Employees or survivors who already received compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program may be eligible for up to an additional $50,000.

Under the newer Part E of the program, people who worked for contractors or subcontractors of DOE whose health is permanently impaired may be eligible for up to $250,000, as well as medical expenses. The list of toxic substances that can cause the impairment is also expanded.

Eligibility for the EEOICP is a bit more complicated than that for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program. It is often determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account factors such as how likely a specific cancer or other disease was caused by the individual person’s exposures. Other agencies, such as National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), may help in making these determinations.

To learn more about the EEOICP or to get help filing a claim, contact the Department of Labor at 1-866-888-3322 or visit their website at www.dol.gov/owcp/energy.

Additional resources

More information from your American Cancer Society

The following related information may also be helpful to you. These materials may be viewed on our website or ordered from our toll-free number, at 1-800-227-2345.

X-rays, Gamma Rays, and Cancer Risk

National organizations and websites*

In addition to the American Cancer Society, other sources of information and support include:

US Department of Justice
Radiation Exposure Compensation Program
Toll-free number: 1-800-729-7327 (1-800-729-RECP)
Website: www.justice.gov/civil/common/reca.html

US Department of Labor
Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC)
Toll-free number: 1-866-888-3322
Website: www.dol.gov/owcp/energy

National Cancer Institute
Toll-free number: 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER)
Website: www.cancer.gov
Radioactive I-131 from fallout: www.cancer.gov/i131

*Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society.

No matter who you are, we can help. Contact us anytime, day or night, for information and support. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

References

Caldwell GG, Kelley D, Zack M, et al. Mortality and cancer frequency among military nuclear test (Smoky) participants, 1957 through 1979. JAMA. 1983;250:620-624.

Dalager NA, Kang HK, Mahan CM. Cancer mortality among the highest exposed US atmospheric nuclear test participants. J Occup Eviron Med. 2000;42:798-805.

Muirhead CR, Bingham D, Haylock RG, et al. Follow up of mortality and incidence of cancer 1952-98 in men from the UK who participated in the UK’s atmospheric nuclear weapon tests and experimental programmes. Occup Environ Med. 2003;60:165-172.

National Research Council. Exposure of the American Population to Radioactive Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests: A Review of the CDC-NCI Draft Report on a Feasibility Study of the Health Consequences to the American Population from Nuclear Weapons Tests Conducted by the United States and Other Nations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2003. Accessed at http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10621 on January 14, 2014

US Department of Justice. Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). Accessed at www.justice.gov/civil/common/reca.html on January 14, 2014.

US Department of Labor. Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC). Accessed at www.dol.gov/owcp/energy on January 15, 2014.

Watanabe KK, Kang HK, Dalager NA. Cancer mortality risk among military participants of a 1958 atmospheric nuclear weapons test. Am J Public Health. 1995;85:523-527.

Last Medical Review: 04/07/2014
Last Revised: 04/07/2014