French Government Offers Nuclear Test Compensation

PARIS (AP) - The French government offered for the first time
Tuesday to compensate people who suffered health problems as a
result of nuclear tests in Algeria and the South Pacific decades
ago.

"It's time for our country to be at peace with itself, at peace
thanks to a system of compensation and reparations," French
Defense Minister Herve Morin said in presenting a draft law on the
payouts.

The government will set aside some euro10 million ($13.5 million)
for the compensation, he said.

Some 150,000 people, including civilian and military personnel,
were on site for the 210 tests that France carried out in the
Sahara Desert and in the South Pacific from 1960-1996, he said.

Morin insisted that not all of those people would be entitled to
compensation, only those who developed health problems linked to
the tests. Descendants of victims who have since died will be
entitled to apply for payouts.

The bill allows for compensation on a case-by-case basis, and
enjoys broad political support. It will be presented in the coming
months to parliament.

Morin defended the need for the nuclear tests at the time when
France was building up its nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.

These tests "allowed us to obtain an independent force of
dissuasion, guaranteeing the protection of our vital interests and
allowing us to be a power respected in the world alongside the
other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council," Morin said.

All five permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security
Council possess nuclear arsenals: the United States, Russia,
Britain, France and China.

Morin also insisted that most of the tests were carried out "in
full security" and involved no dangerous radiation leaks.

Victims' groups, who have long called for a government
recognition of the dangers that the tests posed, say native
populations were little aware of radiation risks.

Morin said any resident of a zone near the test sites would be
eligible to seek payouts under the bill - including Algerians,
whose country won independence from France in 1962, after the
nuclear test program had started.


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