Page last updated at 18:58 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

France offers nuclear test money

French nuclear test at Mururoa, French Polynesia, in 1970
France carried out 210 nuclear tests over three decades

France is to compensate people who suffered health problems as a result of three decades of nuclear weapons tests.

France carried out more than 200 tests, firstly in Algeria and later in French Polynesia, between 1966 and 1996.

Some 150,000 civil and military workers took part, many of whom have illnesses including thyroid cancer and leukaemia.

Defence Minister Herve Morin said a compensation bill would go before parliament. The ministry has earmarked 10m euros (£9m) to compensate victims.

The government has until now been reluctant to officially recognise a link between the testing and any radiation-related sicknesses.

Burden of proof

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says France's decision to set up a compensation fund for victims represents a major change of heart.


"Governments believed for a long time that opening the door to compensation would pose a threat to the very significant efforts made by France to have credible nuclear deterrent," Mr Morin told the newspaper, Le Figaro.

"But it was time for France to be true to its conscience," he added.

Mr Morin said that under the provisions contained in the proposed compensation bill, an independent committee of doctors led by a magistrate would examine those affected on a case-by-case basis.

Many of the 150,000 soldiers and civilians who witnessed the nuclear tests say they are suffering from diseases such as leukaemia and thyroid cancer.

French nuclear test during the 1960s near Raggane in the Algerian Sahara
Locals from Algeria and Polynesia who were at the tests will also be eligible

Crucially, our correspondent says, the burden of proof before the committee will not be on the victims to show that their illness is linked to the tests, but on the government to show that it is not.

Local people from Southern Algeria and Polynesia who were at the tests will also be eligible to apply for compensation.

"A first batch of 10 million euros has already been earmarked for the first year in the defence ministry budget," Mr Morin said.

The vice-president of the French Nuclear Veterans Association (AVEN) welcomed the announcement, but questioned how the government had arrived at the initial settlement of 10m euros.

"What's that figure based on? There's no medical follow-up. Out of 150,000 people who worked on the nuclear sites, how many are really ill?" asked Jean Luc Sans in a BBC interview.

"Ten million euros... that's just for show - it's a publicity coup."

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