A yearlong investigation reveals that America’s great push to win the World War II and Cold War has left “a legacy of death on American soil,” with at least 33,480 US nuclear workers dying of radiation exposure over the course of the last seven decades.
The death count, disclosed for the first time, is more than four times the number of American fatalities in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report from McClatchy called “irritated.”
The investigation has exposed the “enormous human cost” of the US nuclear weapons complex using more than 70 million records in a database obtained from the US Department of Labor under the Freedom of Information Act.
The count includes all workers who died after they or their survivors were compensated under a special fund established in 2001 to help those who were exposed to deadly materials while building the US nuclear stockpile, the report said.
A total of 107,394 workers, involved in the construction of America’s nuclear arsenal, have been diagnosed with cancers and other diseases over the last seven decades, records from an interactive database showed.
In addition to utilizing the federal data, McClatchy’s investigation is also based on over 100 interviews with nuclear workers, government officials, experts and activists.
The report noted that US government officials greatly underestimated how sick the nuclear workforce would become. At first, the government estimated that the compensation program would cost $120 million a year to cover 3,000 people. However, 14 years later, the government has spent $12 billion of taxpayer money to compensate more than 53,000 nuclear workers.
Despite the enormous costs, federal records show that only fewer than half of those who sought compensation have had their claims approved by the US Department of Labor.
Decades after the first victims of the radiation exposure have been identified; McClatchy’s investigation revealed that current safety standards have not reduced the exposure rates and day-to-day accidents in America’s nuclear facilities.
The government, meanwhile, seeks to save money by cutting current workers’ health plans, retirement benefits and sick leave. More than 186,000 nuclear employees have been exposed since the compensation program was created in 2001.
McClatchy conducted the project in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, a nonprofit media center in New York City.
The report comes as the US prepares to upgrade its aging nuclear arsenal to the tune of $1 trillion over the next 30 years.