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France

Government earmarks €10 million for nuclear test victims

Text by Julien PEYRON

Latest update : 2009-03-26

After decades of denial, the French government has announced a compensation scheme for victims of nuclear tests carried out by France in Algeria in the 1960s and in French Polynesia over more than three decades.

More than 10 years after France carried out its last nuclear test on the Pacific Ocean atoll of Fangataufa, French authorities have finally moved to address the grievances of the victims of the country’s 210 nuclear tests. In an interview with the daily newspaper Le Figaro, Defence Minister Hervé Morin said the government had earmarked an initial 10 million euros as part of a compensation scheme.

Morin said an independent commission of doctors led by a magistrate would examine complaints on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the plaintiffs’ symptoms are indeed related to the 18 ailments identified by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which include leukaemia, thyroid cancer and other diseases. The ministry added that the list of diseases could evolve in the event of new medical discoveries.


Avoiding a "lengthy and unpredictable judicial process"

The plaintiffs include French military personnel, civilians working for the companies involved in the tests and residents living near the test sites in the Algerian desert and in French Polynesia.

France conducted nuclear tests in Algeria in the early 1960s. Tests in French Polynesia were conducted between the mid-1960s and the early 1990s; the last test was on Fangataufa in 1996.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Defence, some 150,000 civil and military workers took part in activities linked to the nuclear tests. A state decree will determine the exact periods during which the tests took place in order to enable residents of areas close to the testing zones to receive their share of compensation. With no minimum level of exposure to radiation set, even the least affected could stake a claim.

Employees who worked on the tests and local inhabitants have long complained of the effects of the tests on their health. The French state had long refused to officially recognise a link between its nuclear testing and health complaints, forcing many to take their cases to court.

Now, Morin said he hoped the men and women who had helped France “rank among the world’s great military powers” would be spared the hassle of a “lengthy and unpredictable judicial process”.

Date created : 2009-03-24

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