Elderly ex-official charged in Chernobyl cover-up

1st June 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 31, 2006 (AFP) - The former head of the state-run French body monitoring radiation was charged Wednesday with "aggravated deceit" over the alleged cover-up of the effects of the May 1986 Chernobyl disaster on France.

PARIS, May 31, 2006 (AFP) - The former head of the state-run French body monitoring radiation was charged Wednesday with "aggravated deceit" over the alleged cover-up of the effects of the May 1986 Chernobyl disaster on France.

Pierre Pellerin, 83, was charged by magistrate Marie-Odile Bertella-Geoffroy after four hours of questioning, his lawyer Georges Holleaux said, while adding that he was only a witness for the main accusation of causing "involuntary harm."

An experts' report leaked at the end of last year said that the state-run Central Service for Protection against Radioactive Rays (SCPRI), which Pellerin headed, knew of high levels of contamination in Corsica and southeastern France but kept the details under wraps.

Bertella-Geffroy has since 2001 been examining allegations that the atomic cloud from the Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine caused a surge in cases of thyroid cancer in parts of France.

There are some 500 civil plaintiffs in the case, along with the Independent Commission for Research and Information on Radioactivity, which was set up following criticism of the SCPRI, and the French Association of Victims of Thyroid Cancer.

The report states that the SCPRI issued imprecise maps that concealed the high levels of fallout in certain areas, according to sources who saw the document.

It also states that with full information health authorities could have taken targeted steps to reduce the exposure of vulnerable people such as children and pregnant mothers.

Anti-nuclear groups have long alleged that the French government deliberately played down the risk posed by the Chernobyl cloud, notably in order to protect the image of France's own nuclear industry.

Early last year anti-nuclear campaigners demanded that Pellerin be placed under judicial investigation in the case, while several renowned physicists commended him for not giving way to panic in his handling of the crisis.

In April 2006 France's high court of appeal confirmed a conviction for libel against leading Green party deputy Noël Mamère, who wrongfully accused Pellerin of claiming that the Chernobyl nuclear cloud stopped at the French border.

Doctors also question the supposed link between Chernobyl and the rise in thyroid cancer, a trend which began in the mid-1970s but which Bertella-Geoffroy is also investigating, notably in Corsica.

Houlleaux said Pellerin had been accused under consumer legislation. "What is important is that he is only a witness with regard to public health matters, which shows that what my client said in 1986 was true, that there was no risk to health."

Saying he would ask for the case to be dismissed, Houlleax added, "There is a witch-hunt against an old gentleman of 83 who for 20 years has been treated as a bogeyman.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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