French nuclear test victims to get compensation

1st July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The French National Assembly on Thursday approved a landmark bill on compensating the victims of nuclear tests.

Paris – The French National Assembly on Thursday approved a landmark bill on compensating the victims of nuclear tests carried out in French Polynesia and Algeria over more than three decades.

Some 150,000 civilian and military personnel took part in 210 nuclear tests carried out in the Sahara desert and the Pacific between 1960 and 1996. Many of them later developed serious health problems.

The bill must now be presented to the Senate, which is practically certain to approve it. Defence Minister Herve Morin said in May when he unveiled the bill that he expected it to come into effect by the end of the year.

Morin recently said he expected "a few hundred" people would be concerned. The move came after decades of official denials by France of its responsibility for fear the admission would have weakened its nuclear programme during the Cold War.

French veterans had been waging a long campaign for the state to recognise its responsibility toward ageing and sick staff who worked on its nuclear programme.

Under the bill, a nine-member committee of physicians, led by a magistrate, will examine individual claims for compensation.

Socialist opposition lawmakers had welcomed the bill, but warned it gives too much say to state appointees and too little to victims' groups in deciding who is eligible.

By offering compensation, the government hopes to avoid long, drawn-out litigation. About a dozen veterans have won minor damages in lawsuits brought against the state.

One of the world's nuclear powers, France carried out 17 nuclear tests in Algeria in the early 1960s including four atmospheric trials.

The first test code-named "Gerboise Bleue" (Blue Gerbil) took place on 13 February, 1960 in Reggane, southern Algeria, some 15 years after the United States ushered in the age of nuclear weapons with its test in New Mexico.

After Algeria's independence over four decades, 193 tests were carried out near the French Polynesian islands of Mururoa and at Fangataufa until 1996 when then president Jacques Chirac declared an end to the programme.

The government is also lifting 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.

AFP / Expatica

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