The Hanford logjam is starting to break. According to court records, 383 plaintiffs who suffer from thyroid disease have agreed to settle their claims against the government that radiation from the now-shuttered Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State made them sick.
The settlement brings the number of plaintiffs remaining to less than 1,000 in litigation that’s been pending in Spokane, Wash., federal court for 21 years. The deal comes after 139 thyroid disease plaintiffs settled in July.
As reported by The National Law Journal earlier this year, the Hanford plant in southeastern Washington state produced most of the material for the United States’ arsenal of nuclear bombs, including the one dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. It also released huge amounts of radiation, sometimes intentionally, primarily between 1944 and 1950.
The Department of Energy indemnified the government contractors, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. and General Electric Co., that ran the plant, and has spent about $60 million in legal bills defending them. On the plaintiffs side, lawyers have shelled out about $10 million in expenses.
The litigation for years proved all but intractable. Plaintiffs lawyers originally wanted between $500 million and $2 billion to settle all the individual claims (the litigation is not a class action). In recent months, U.S. District Judge William Fremming Nielsen has moved aggressively to schedule trials, and the Department of Energy has stepped up efforts to resolve the cases.
The amount of the settlement has not been made public. In July, the thyroid disease plaintiffs who settled received an average of $5,700 apiece, for a total payment of just under $800,000.
Many of the remaining plaintiffs suffer from cancers that they claim were caused by radioactive contamination of the Columbia River.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers Richard Eymann and Tom Foulds declined to comment, as did the Department of Energy.