Do RPCVs Qualify for Compensation Due to French Nuclear Testing?
By Brittany Clark on Friday, September 17th, 2010
A long-awaited French law passed earlier this year will provide compensation to victims of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific and the Algerian Sahara. The French conducted atomic testing from 1960 to 1998, and during that time, Peace Corps volunteers may have been among the estimated 600,000 people affected by radiation poisoning. One Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) of Spokane, WA, Michael L. Driscoll, has been trying to determine for years if his health issues are the result of exposure to radiation during his service in Samoa between 1973 and 1974. Nearly 40 years later, Driscoll is still searching for answers. He wonders if there are more RPCVs out there like him—who may have been harmed during service and who also may qualify for compensation from the French government.
The French Minister of Defense, Herve Morin, has acknowledged the “physical and psychological distress” of the victims; and has said that France now has a desire to “put its conscience at rest.” The law, passed on January 5, 2010, set aside 10 million euro to cover all victims for the first year. After corresponding with the French Embassy and the French Ministry of Defense, Michael Driscoll now has the application necessary to request compensation. But before sending it in to be considered, he wants to know for sure if he really is a victim—if radiation truly is the cause of his medical ailments. It’s difficult to be absolutely certain when dealing with radiation poisoning, but piecing together some key facts about the explosions could provide the answers.
Most of the nuclear explosions relevant to Driscoll’s case were set off on islands near the Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia, an area that is roughly 1800 miles southeast of where he served in Samoa. Driscoll, and other potentially affected RPCVs may want to contact the French Ministry of Defense for the answers to the following questions before applying for compensation:
• Is there a map available that shows where there was fallout from the explosions? Depending on where the bomb clouds drifted, Driscoll and other RPCVs may or may not have been affected. Careful calculations were recorded during each experiment, so someone or some website must have the documentation available.
• Even if there is a map showing fallout, how sure can one be that the cloud was confined to just these areas?
Driscoll knows that at least one of the 12 bombs that went off during his Peace Corps service were up to ten times the strength of the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the U.S in 1945. Can a bomb cloud that size stay contained to one area? No, says Driscoll, who points to the eruption of Washington’s Mount St. Helens in 1980 as an example. According to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, traces of the volcano’s ash were found around the world and measurable accumulations were found 2,000 miles away in Oklahoma. So it seems quite possible that Driscoll and other South Pacific RPCVs were in the vicinity of the French radiation fallout, and may in fact qualify for compensation from the French government for any radiation-induced illnesses.
Driscoll continues to search for answers and gather information for his application. He wonders how the devastating effects of nuclear experimentation will affect our future. “We’re on the edge of a cliff,” he says. Nuclear testing “destroys a vicinity for years and years and years.” Anyone who believes that they may have been exposed to radiation during PC service and who would like to discuss it further or help contact the French Ministry of Defense can contact Michael Driscoll at email@example.com.