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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A National Academy of Sciences report has recommended that the government's radiation compensation program be applied to a large territory but also be more restrictive in determining who is eligible.
Radiation actually is not a particularly potent cancer-causer, and tightened compensation standards likely would "result in few successful claims," the report released Thursday said.
It recommends widening the pool of potential claimants throughout the nation and to include people in uranium-related jobs and professions not currently covered by the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
But even there, the risks "for radiation-induced disease are generally low at the exposure levels of concern," the study said.
The link between disease and radiation from uranium mining and from aboveground atomic testing in Nevada during the 1950s and early 1960s has been controversial for decades, with different studies drawing different conclusions.
The National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 at the request of Congress, which must decide if any action is needed.
"New information since RECA was enacted in 1990 reveals a wider geographic distribution of dose from (radioactive iodine) than was generally recognized when Congress identified selected counties as affected areas for downwinder eligibility," the report said.
But the report also said that the number of cancers among Japanese atomic bomb survivors that are attributable to radiation "is relatively small, even though many in this population received doses much higher than doses received by most of downwinders."
RECA allows compensation for people with diseases tied to radiation who lived in certain counties downwind from the Nevada Test Site in southwestern Utah, southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. It also covered workers at the Nevada Test Site, and in 2000, Congress extended coverage to uranium workers.
Compensation for those who qualify is $100,000 for those exposed in the weapons-related uranium mining industry, $75,000 for onsite workers and $50,000 for downwinders.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is concerned the recommendations may not address health issues facing Utah's downwinders. "I'm worried that moving away from geography as a basis for expanding RECA may result in thousands of downwinders falling through the cracks."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he hoped that any congressional changes to the program do not undercut any persons who are currently eligible for compensation.
Hatch also said that he is frequently approached by constituents who believe that they should be eligible, but, "It is impossible for Congress to evaluate those requests without a solid scientific analysis, which is what the NAS report was intended to provide."
The report recommended that the National Cancer Institute or other agencies carry out a nationwide pre-assessment survey of diseases related to radiation to provide guidance about how likely a person is to be compensated.
The report also said Congress should establish a new method of awarding compensation, based not on residency in particular counties but on figuring the probability of causation and assigned share of the risk.
The would be based on a formula developed in 2003 by the National Centers for Disease Control to assess the likelihood of a particular cancer developing from exposure to a dose of radiation. The assigned share involves the amount of exposure an individual had.
A separate set of standards, including a scientific link, would have to be met to be eligible for compensation, the reports said.
"We wanted a science-based criteria for compensation, rather than a geographic-based criteria," said Julian Preston, a researcher with the Environmental Protection Agency who chaired the committee that issued the report.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)