Iowa’s Harkin spurring movement at last on Udall nuke worker bill

Michael Fellenger died in April 2008 of lung failure stemming from his work with nuclear material at the Ames Laboratory in Iowa. His wife Bo lives in Boulder and she is one of the many direct and indirect victims Colorado Sen. Mark Udall has been championing for more than a year in Washington by demanding the government compensate the victims of the nation’s Cold War nuclear industry.

Udall introduced the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Worker’s Compensation Act to the Senate in March 2009 to address failures of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP). This week he is getting strong support from Democratic Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who will ask the Department of Labor to reopen the Fellenger case. Harkin will also push legislative fixes for the federal program that denied the claim, aides to the senator Thursday, told the Iowa Independent’s Laura Millsap, who has been covering the story for months.

As Millsap reports, some of the responsibility for the frustration of victims and of Udall lies with Harkin, who was one of the authors of the original legislation creating the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Program in 2000. He is now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), where the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Worker’s Compensation Act has been awaiting action for more than a year.

Responding to an article by The Iowa Independent [first posted Thursday], a Harkin spokeswoman said he would push for the DOL to reopen the case of Fellenger…

Former workers and advocates say instead of providing compensation, the federal program [EEOICP] tangles claimants in years of bureaucracy, and in two out of three cases results in denied claims.

Fellinger worked as a graduate student in high energy physics at the Ames Laboratory in 1960s and early 1970s. He produced lab equipment both for the Ames Laboratory and another Department of Energy site, Argonne Laboratories in Illinois. According to his claim documents, he was likely exposed to beryllium, known to cause chronic lung disease.

Fellinger’s widow received a final denial of her husband’s claim in April.

Harkin said he is looking to put a recent GAO report’s recommendations into action. Harkin and other congressional leaders requested the report in 2008 when criticism of the program became public through a series of investigative articles in the Rocky Mountain News. Released this March, the report criticized the EEOICP for lack of independent oversight, lack of transparency and lengthy claims processing times.

“We have made great inroads, but as the GAO report suggests, gaps remain for these workers,” Harkin said in a statment to The Iowa Independent. “I am going to do everything I can within my power to close those gaps.”


“These workers did their job with excellence, and they did it at great personal peril. The men and women of Burlington truly were on the front lines of the Cold War. They received no medals, no thank-you’s, no special pay. But at last, they have compensation. And more importantly, some measure of justice,” Harkin said.

Harkin also chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), where a legislative fix for the program would have to originate.

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic | 720-432-2128 |

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