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A U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday raised hopes that as many as 2,000 plaintiffs could be compensated for health problems they blame on radiation from a Washington state nuclear site instrumental in the Manhattan Project and the Cold War.

The court issued a one-line denial of an appeal by contractors who worked at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The contractors — E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., General Electric Co. and UNC Nuclear Industries Inc. — were challenging a lower-court ruling last spring that sided largely with the plaintiffs.

The people exposed to radiation lived in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and Idaho, downwind of Hanford, as the U.S. government was developing atomic bombs in the 1940s.

The government did not disclose until 1986 that radiation had been released at the site, and since then the "downwinders" have sought compensation for thyroid cancer and other conditions they believe were caused by the exposure.

"This is very exciting for us," Richard Eymann, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the long-running case, told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane. "With a new administration coming in, we want a serious look at compensation for these people after years of litigation."

So far, the plaintiffs have not agreed to a settlement offer by the contractors that would compensate them based on the amount of radiation they likely received and the illnesses they have, said Kevin Van Wart, lead attorney in Chicago for the Hanford contractors.

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