By Aidan Lewis
BBC News, Paris
As France carried out its third atmospheric nuclear test on 27 December 1960, Claude Grenot, a young military serviceman at the test site in the Sahara desert, had his back to the blast.
Claude Grenot helped with experiments on animals at early tests
After a short pause, he and his colleagues turned to watch a mushroom cloud that he remembers as slightly feeble, then drove over to collect goats and rabbits they had earlier placed in traps closer to the metal tower where the bomb was detonated.
"Before we retrieved the animals there were helicopters taking samples of the dust," Mr Grenot recalled.
"We picked up the animals then went to a decontamination centre where they measured our radioactivity."
Then the servicemen were herded into giant shower rooms where they were hosed down with pressure jets.
"When we were finished, we walked through a radiation counter to see if there was any radioactivity left. If there was, we passed through two or three times. Those who were really contaminated were repatriated to France."
For protection, he said, "we had white suits, a gas mask and rubber boots".
Now 72, Claude Grenot has been unwell for more than a decade, battling skin cancer and a brain tumour that he suspects are linked to the tests.
He needs a metal support frame to walk, and his hair has yet to grow back over a scar from an operation on his scalp.
"I've been operated on twice but since the most recent operation the tumour has grown very quickly, and now they can no longer operate," he says.
"I have the sword of Damocles hanging over me."
A former air force pilot who was in Polynesia for testing in 1968 and 1970, Philippe Gouze at first appears in good health for a man of 71.
His role was to measure the wind ahead of a test then search for the atomic cloud afterwards to see what altitude it had reached.
On 3 August 1970 he set off with three others from the Pacific island of Hao, about seven hours after a test on the Mururoa atoll, dressed in an orange jump-suit that was supposed to offer some protection from radioactivity.
Philippe Gouze flew through a radioactive cloud in 1970
"After two hours everything was going fine, we were probably flying at about 11,000m (36,000ft), when suddenly our colleague from the nuclear energy agency called out that we must be right in the middle[of the cloud], all his instruments hit maximum," Mr Gouze said.
"We were in clear sky, you couldn't see it - it was just ambient radioactivity.
"I quickly made a left turn, full throttle, to get out of the cloud, where we must have remained for five or six minutes."
Just over five hours later they landed back at the base, where despite some initial reassurance from a senior doctor, they were found to have absorbed several times the maximum permitted dose of radiation.
They were rushed to a hospital in Tahiti, where they had to take showers up to eight times a day and wash their hair with a special product.
"It turned out that after five or six days we had a normal dose again," Mr Gouze said. "At the time, it was forbidden to say we had been contaminated."
"We were subjected to very heavy radiation despite our outfits and masks. It was never recorded on our medical files, never."
Some French veterans, especially among conscripts who took part in testing in Algeria, said they were unaware that they were being deployed to test sites before they arrived.
But as an air force pilot, Mr Gouze knew his mission and supported France's nuclear deterrent.
"I agreed with General de Gaulle's politics at the beginning, but without knowing what it could lead to," he said.
He began to have serious doubts after the navigator from the August 1970 flight died of a cancer that attacked his pancreas, thyroid and lung in 1976, at little over 40.
Mr Gouze left the military in 1970 to join Air France. Starting in the 1980s, he was plagued with unusual prostate and thyroid problems, and had to have four-fifths of his thyroid removed.
All along, he says, his doctors have "asked themselves whether it's linked to the tests".
'Dying for France'
He also thinks that other test personnel and people living near the test sites could have been affected more seriously.
Claude Grenot has the same suspicion about the Algerian sites. After taking part a second test on 25 April 1961, he returned to the Reggane site four years later, once France had begun testing further south.
"We saw two locals who came by foot with their donkeys to remove the towers, which were extremely contaminated.
"The towers were hardly buried, the wind quickly uncovered them and the locals came to collect the metal."
Michele Lecardonnel's husband died from leukaemia in 2005
Mr Grenot and Mr Gouze are hesitant when asked whether they might claim compensation under the French government-backed bill expected to pass in the coming months - both feel that others may have suffered more.
Michele Lecardonnel is one of about 800 widows known to the veterans' association.
Her husband Jean worked as a communications operator on board a naval ship during testing in Polynesia.
He was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2003 and died two years later, aged 59.
"No-one who treated him knew that he had a military background," she said.
"But there was no question - it was a statement: 'You have been in contact with radiation.'"
She said Jean had taken part in testing assuming to be correct "what he had always heard - that is that there was no risk".
"My husband, like all servicemen, knew perfectly well from the moment he joined up that he might die for France."
"It's only that, as he often said while he was still alive, 'I never thought that I could give my life many, many years later having never taken part in a conflict.'"