National Day of Remembrance honors ‘atomic heroes’ of Oak Ridge nuclear weapons program

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**ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, MAY 29** This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Department of Energy shows the sprawling K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, where uranium was enriched for the World War II-era Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The narrow U-shaped building in the middle, also known by the name K-25, was the largest building in the world at the time it was built in the 1940s. The entire site is being turned into a private industrial park. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Energy)

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) – For decades employees who became ill from their work at nuclear facilities like those in Oak Ridge had nowhere to turn for help. Federal programs and state worker’s compensation programs excluded employees at 380 facilities across the nation because the hazards to which they were exposed were not well understood.

“Many of these Department of Energy (DOE) facilities were highly dangerous places to work, in quite a few cases with the exact or potential perils not clearly known at the time,” said the Director of the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation in a statement on Friday.

Oct. 30 marks the 11th anniversary of the first U.S. Senate resolution to honor workers employed in the atomic weapons program. The resolution is renewed each year.

WATCH: Cold War Patriots advocacy group holds virtual National Day of Remembrance ceremony

The National Day of Remembrance for Nuclear Weapons Program Workers recognizes the sacrifices made by nuclear weapons workers, including uranium miners, millers, ore transporters since the atomic race began at the end of World War II.

READ: The U.S. Senate resolution designating October 30, 2020 as a national day of remembrance for the workers of the nuclear weapons program of the United States.

This date is also the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. Signed into law more than 50 years after the start of the atomic era, the program provides medical benefits and compensation to workers for medical conditions directly connected with their work in America’s nuclear weapons program.

The law came about in the late 1990s after a group of sick workers traveled to Washington, D.C. to emphasize the connection between their illnesses and exposure to radiation and other toxins at nuclear weapons facilities, uranium mining and processing facilities.

More than 128,000 employees, contractors and vendors have been accepted into the program after diagnosed with radiogenic cancer, chronic beryllium disease, beryllium sensitivity or chronic silicosis as a result of exposure to radiation, beryllium, or silica at their job site, according to program statistics from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

Certain employees at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (K-25), Oak Ridge Hospital, Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education (ORISE), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (X-10), Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI), and S-50 Oak Ridge Thermal Diffusion Plant are eligible for the federal compensation program. To learn more, visit the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs.

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