Saturday, July 28, 1979 | 6 a.m.
Attorneys and residents of Nevada, Arizona and Utah who have asked for compensation for cancers they allege were caused by atmospheric atomic tests at the Nevada Test Site Friday hailed President Carter's decision to establish a high-level task force aimed at developing a fair system to compensate fallout victims.
"We've been given top priority - that's what it means," Stewart Udall, the former cabinet secretary handling the case, told the SUN from his Washington, D.C., office. "They've done what we've been pleading them for."
The former government official called the Carter decision "a major breakthrough."
The New York Times reported Friday that Carter had established a task force, which includes five cabinet secretaries, to establish guidelines on which to decide claims under current compensation programs. The task force report must be submitted no later than Oct. 1, 1979, according to a July 20 memo from Stuart E. Eizenstat, the president's domestic policy adviser.
"The downwind people are our first priority," one of Eizenstat's staff is quoted as saying by the Times. "Veterans and workers who have been subjected to radiation have mechanisms for seeking compensation, but these civilians have absolutely nothing."
Udall said he had hoped the government would finally "do something like this.
"I had assumed they didn't get the message, this shows me they did," he commented.
Udall said the task force would be chaired by a representative of the U.S. Department of Justice with members drawn from the Defense Department, Health, Education and Welfare and Labor. The director of the Office of Management and Budget and the administrator of veteran affairs will also sit on the panel.
But Udall said establishment of the task force will in no way slow down preparations for a massive lawsuit against the federal government.
In fact, attorneys expect to file 450 claims against the government in federal district court sometime int he next 10 days to two weeks, said Udall.
"We don't want to get our hopes too high," he noted.
St. George, Utah, attorney J. MacArthur Wright agreed with Udall's assessment of Carter's decision, but said "we've been terribly busy on this thing (the lawsuit) and we will proceed."
He said that by setting a deadline for the task force to issue a report "implies this will not be dragged on for years.
"We're generally very pleased with the development; it meets the problem head on."
Parowan, Utah, resident Estell Orton, first interviewed last December for a SUN series on the effects of nuclear fallout on persons living near the test site, said it "was about time the federal government took some action.
"It's time they did something, I'd like to see some action," Orton said.
She added, however, that it was still her feeling the government "will look for a way out."