France hid info on effects of Chernobyl cloud
PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) - French authorities deliberately suppressed information about the spread of radioactive fallout from the May 1986 Chernobyl disaster over France, according to details of an experts' report leaked Thursday.
Two independent physicists say in the report that the state-run Central Service for Protection against Radioactive Rays (SCPRI) knew of high levels of contamination in Corsica and southeastern France but kept the details under wraps.
The study was commissioned by magistrate Marie-Odile Bertella-Geffroy, who since 2001 has been examining allegations that the atomic cloud from Chernobyl caused a surge in cases of thyroid cancer in parts of France.
This week Bertella-Geffroy handed over the report — originally completed in March — to civil plaintiffs in the case, who passed details to AFP.
“Now we have proof that there was a breakdown in the system. So now the judicial case will succeed — I can’t see how it can do otherwise,” said Chantal Hoir, president of 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.
It was the first time an independent study gave substance to long-standing accusations from anti-nuclear groups that the French government deliberately played down the risk posed by the nuclear cloud.
“There was a veritable campaign of lies instigated by the state in order to protect the image of the French nuclear industry,” said the campaigning organisation Sortir du Nucleaire (Get Out of Nuclear Power), welcoming details of the report.
“As in other European countries, people should have been told not to eat fresh vegetables and milk products, which absorb most radioactivity, or to let their children play in sand-pits and so on,” it said.
Earlier this year anti-nuclear campaigners demanded that SCPRI’s director at the time of the disaster, Pierre Pellerin, be placed under judicial investigation in the case.
However scientific opinion remains deeply divided, with several renowned physicists sending an open letter to President Jacques Chirac in June commending Pellerin for not giving way to panic in his handling of the crisis.
In April, 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.
Subject: French news