Judge orders changes in Hanford downwinder lawsuit

A federal judge has indicated he's not willing to continue trying 2,000 claims in individual trials and admonished attorneys working on an 18-year-old lawsuit over radioactive emissions from the Hanford nuclear reservation.

About 2,000 downwinders have pending claims that their health was damaged, primarily as radioactive isotopes were released into the air and blown downwind at Hanford during World War II and the early years of the Cold War. Hanford, in eastern Washington state, was the site of the reactor that produced plutonium for the first atomic explosion and for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

In the six years that Judge William Fremming Nielsen has had the case in Eastern Washington Federal District Court, he had hoped that by taking a few claims to trial attorneys could better evaluate claims and reach settlement agreements. Just 10 claims have been settled in that bellwether process, with some jury decisions since reversed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Nielsen wrote in a court order: "The resolution of 10 claims in 18 years through the litigation process requires the court to conclude that the process is proceeding at a pace that is not expeditious and is far too slow to bring the litigation to resolution."

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