The U.S. Department of Energy may well have expected applause when it announced in June that it would allow independent researchers to analyze the health records of workers at the nation's nuclear reactors and weapons facilities. After all, the decision was meant to address the public's growing concern about the environmental impact of the nation's 45-year experience with nuclear materials. At the same time, the decision would reverse a long-time DOE policy of restricting access to its employees' health records to only a select number of private contractors, a practice that activists claim has led to vast underreporting of the health consequences to 600,000 scientists and others working in some 76 facilities around the country.

But the general response to a June 13 letter from Energy Secretary James Watkins to Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) has been something less than wild enthusiasm. Health activists have questioned DOE's motives in making the...

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