Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 | 2:22 p.m.
Former Nevada Test Site workers who are seeking compensation from the federal government for cancer they contracted while working on underground nuclear tests are one big step closer to achieving that goal.
The Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health has granted "special exposure cohort status" to individuals who worked at the Test Site from 1963 through 1992, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced today.
Reid hailed the unanimous vote as great news for workers who served the nation during the Cold War.
"These brave men and women served their country honorably during one of the most dangerous conflicts in our nation's history, and many of them contracted life-threatening illnesses in the process," Reid said.
"While I believe it should never take this long to meet our obligation to those who serve their country, I am thankful that the correct decision was made and that we are now closer to compensating them in a manner equal to their service."
Additional procedural steps will have to be taken over the next 90 days before the board's decision becomes law. But Reid described the board's vote as the key hurdle.
The board's decision was brought about by a petition that Reid supported in 2007 along with former Test Site workers or their relatives. A compensation process is already in place for employees who worked at the government facility 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas from 1951 through 1962.
The petition covered any employees of the Energy Department or of a department contractor who were present for underground nuclear tests, performed cleanup work following those tests, worked at Area 51 or other classified areas, or participated in tests related to the Nuclear Rocket Testing Program.
There were 828 underground nuclear tests and 100 above-ground tests at the Test Site from 1951 until the nuclear weapons testing moratorium in 1992.