France to compensate nuclear test victims

24th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

After decades of denying its responsibilities, France says it will compensate 150,000 victims of nuclear testing carried out in the 1960s in French Polynesia and Algeria.

PARIS – France said Tuesday it will compensate 150,000 victims of nuclear testing carried out in the 1960s in French Polynesia and Algeria, after decades of denying its responsibility.

An initial sum of EUR 10 million has been set aside for military and civilian staff as well as local populations who fell ill from radiation exposure, Defence Minister Herve Morin told Le Figaro newspaper.

"It's time for France to be true to its conscience," said Morin.

French veterans had been waging a campaign for decades for the state to recognise its responsibility towards staff of the nuclear programme who were exposed to radiation.

"By refusing to consider the health consequences that these tests may have had, we allow irrational fears, rumours and even fantasies to run wild," Morin said.

The government had long argued that it had done everything possible to minimise risks to personnel during the 210 nuclear tests carried out in the Algerian Sahara desert and in French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean.

Morin said that by offering compensation, the government was hoping to avoid long, drawn-out litigation.

A bill is to be presented in parliament later Tuesday setting up a nine-member commission of physicians, led by a magistrate, who will examine individual claims for compensation.

Retired sailor Serge Vauley recounted that his crew was told to stand on the deck of the Foch aircraft carrier and "admire France's firepower" when the mushroom from nuclear tests in 1966 rose up to the Pacific sky.

Vauley, now 64 and one of the victims seeking compensation, suffers from respiratory problems and described having "holes the size of my fist" in his lungs, Le Figaro reported.

Morin said the government would also lift the veil of secrecy surrounding its nuclear programme as it considers the compensation claims.

The military archives of the nuclear programme have been opened and are being examined by two experts who are to submit a report in December on the environmental impact of the tests.

A separate health study is underway of 30,000 personnel who took part in the trials.

AFP / Expatica

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