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Challenge allowed of expert testimony in lawsuit over former Numec plant radiation

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 1:06 a.m.

A federal judge on Wednesday granted an unusual mid-lawsuit appeal in the case that alleges about 90 people were harmed by radioactive emissions from a former nuclear fuels plant in Apollo.

U.S. District Judge David Stewart Cercone will allow defendants Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group Inc. and the Atlantic Richfield Co. to seek a ruling from the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals on whether to allow expert testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The case — technically, multiple related lawsuits — will be on hold until the appeals court rules. It was not known how long the appeal process could take.

Jonathan D. Orent, an attorney for the plaintiffs, and defense attorneys John P. Phillips and Peter C. Meier could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Attorneys for the nuclear fuels plants requested the appeal after Cercone in February ruled the testimony of several experts for plaintiffs could be admitted. Cercone's order partially reversed the July 2013 opinion of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell.

The plaintiffs aim to show radiation from the plant, operated from the 1950s to 1986 by B&W, Atlantic Richfield and the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., caused cancer and other illnesses, in some cases resulting in death.

The companies have always denied that nuclear operations created harmful conditions outside the plant.

“The divergence of the opinions (between the two judges) reflect very different interpretations of the legal requirements for proving exposure and causation in these cases,” Phillips wrote in his request for the appeal.

Phillips argued the plaintiffs will not be able to proceed if the testimony is not allowed.

In his order granting the appeal, Cercone said the matter warrants clarification now rather than letting the complex cases proceed and possibly be appealed. Answering legal questions now could save all the parties time and effort, he said.

“This Court finds that this matter presents an exceptional case justifying an immediate interlocutory appeal,” Cercone wrote.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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