A landmark lawsuit by French atomic bomb test veterans, pitting scientific questions about radiation's dangers against an ever-mounting roster of morbidity and mortality, has come into sharper public focus this week.

The lawsuit alleges "collective negligence," involuntary homicide, and more on behalf of the veterans of 210 French atomic tests in the Sahara and French Polynesia between 1960 and 1996. The legal and scientific arguments got a highly visible public airing on Thursday night (December 2) when French national television broadcast an interview in which a key official in charge of the atomic tests of the sixties acknowledged government "imprudence."

A lawyer for the plaintiffs told The Scientist he was on the set of the television program when former Minister of Defense Pierre Messmer said the government committed such "imprudences" that he urged then president Charles de Gaulle to abolish the French Atomic Energy Commission.

"The French government's position has...

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