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France to Compensate Victims of Nuclear Tests

The French government has agreed for the first time to compensate people with health problems associated with decades of nuclear tests in Algeria and the South Pacific. While the move marks a watershed, victims' association are pushing for more.

After years of refusing to compensate victims affected by nearly 50 years of nuclear testing in the Sahara Desert in Algeria and in French Polynesia, France has bowed to decades of pressure to do so.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin told reporters the government would earmark about $13.5 million to compensate victims of the testing in the first year of the program.

Morin said France must be at peace with itself, through compensation and reparation payments. But he remained adamant the nuclear testing was essential for France to build a credible nuclear deterrent to help guarantee the country's vital interests.

Between 1960 to 1996, the French military carried out more than 200 nuclear tests in the atmosphere and underground in Algeria and the South Pacific. Both French soldiers and residents in the areas later fell ill from radiation exposure.

The French parliament is likely to examine the legislation to compensate the victims in the coming months. Morin said anybody who lived near the test sites and developed medical problems could be eligible for compensation. But the victims' association wants to change the draft bill so more people are eligible to apply.