25 Mar 2009

French compo deal too late for many - Greenpeace

4:07 pm on 25 March 2009

Greenpeace says a French compensation deal for people who suffered health problems from nuclear testing in the Pacific has come too late.

The environmental group says many of the military and civilian staff involved have already died.

France carried out nuclear tests from the 1960 until 1996.

Former Greenpeace campaign leader Stephanie Mills says survivors will also find it hard to get a payout.

The compensation package is worth about $24 million.

But Mururoa Veterans' Association president Peter Mitchell has welcomed the news, saying he and other veterans in the association suffer from the radiation effects of the tests.

Mr Mitchell says association members will be contacting the French embassy to put forward their names for compensation.

Mr Mitchell, 62, who served on the HMNZS Canterbury, which spent time off the atoll of Mururoa, says 90% of the association's members have been affected by the nuclear tests.

On Tuesday, the French government said it would compensate victims of past nuclear tests with an initial fund of nearly 10 million euros.

France has long refused to officially recognise a link between its testing of nuclear bombs and health complaints reported by both military and civilian staff involved.

But Defence Minister Herve Morin has told Le Figaro it is time for France to be true to its conscience.

France tested nuclear weapons in Algeria between 1960 and 1966, then in French Polynesia between 1966 and 1996. It conducted a total of 210 tests.

Mr Morin says about 150,000 civil and military workers are theoretically affected.

He says an independent commission of doctors led by a magistrate would examine claims on a case-by-case basis and if it recognised health damage linked to nuclear testing, the state would fully compensate the individuals.

Mr Morin said the government had released its archives on the conditions under which the tests were carried out and their impact on the environment, and these documents were being examined by eminent doctors.

Staff who took part in the French tests as well as residents of areas close to the testing zones have long complained of health consequences including leukemia and other forms of cancer. There have been numerous court cases.

Health and environmental campaigners denounced France's nuclear tests for decades.

Hostility to the tests reached its climax in the wake of the 1985 sinking by French secret agents of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship in Auckland.

The French acted to prevent the ship from disrupting nuclear tests, but the attack was made public and became an international scandal and a public relations disaster for Paris.

Meanwhile, the French government will answer charges in April that it failed to protect its French Polynesian workers from fallout during the years of Pacific tests.

The industrial relations tribunal in Papeete has found that France must account for the consequences of nuclear testing on the health of people in its Pacific territory.