France deliberately exposed its soldiers to nuclear explosions in Algeria in the 1960s to study the effect of radiation on humans, a newspaper reported today, citing confidential documents.
The French government promised last year to compensate victims of nuclear tests in Algeria, carried out between 1960 and 1966, recognising a link between the explosions and veterans’ illnesses such as cancer.
While the government has said the tests were conducted as safely as possible, newspaper Le Parisien quoted an official defence report from the period as saying that the army deliberately sent its soldiers on risky manoeuvres on April 25, 1961.
One of the aims was “to study the physical and psychological effect of atomic weapons on humans, in order to obtain necessary elements for the physical preparation and training of morale of the modern combatant”, Le Parisien quoted the report as saying.
Defence Minister Herve Morin told the paper he had no knowledge of the report. “The (radioactive) dosages received during the tests were very low,” he said.
Some veterans who worked on the experiments in Algeria, and subsequent tests on French Polynesian atolls, have said they were ordered to lie down and cover their eyes during the explosions, wearing nothing but shorts and T-shirts.
Le Parisien said that about 300 soldiers participated in the 1961 test, and that patrols were ordered to enter the affected area right after the explosion and head for the point where the device was set off.
“A patrol of cross-country vehicles was ordered to carry out a raid on point zero to study the possibility of attack in a contaminated zone,” the newspaper quoted the document as saying.
France ran nuclear tests in French Polynesia between 1966 and 1996. Several veterans have said they were told to sail into affected areas immediately after the blast to examine the impact.