France hushed up Chernobyl risks - research centre
France's Independent Commission on Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD), which is filing a civil complaint against President Jacques Chirac's government for involuntary physical injury, said there had been a government cover-up.
It said the government was aware that radioactive fallout from the world's worst nuclear disaster could harm the public but deliberately failed to warn them.
"Why these blatant lies? These obvious errors? This silence from official and even scientific bodies?" CRIIRAD director Corinne Castanier told a news conference.
The Paris public prosecutor's office ordered an official investigation, one step short of charges under French law, into whether French citizens fell sick because of Chernobyl after 51 plaintiffs filed suits against the state.
CRIIRAD said the allegations were based on documents seized by an investigating magistrate probing the effects in France after a radioactive cloud drifted west from Chernobyl in Ukraine when a reactor exploded in April 1986.
The centre said these documents proved high-level civil servants ordered a cover-up.
More than 100 more people with thyroid ailments have since filed lawsuits similar against the state, accusing it of failing to warn them of the risks.
West Germany, Austria and Italy took various precautions, including restrictions on the consumption of milk and dairy products. But French authorities said there was no need for special measures to protect against health risks.
Radioactivity from the explosion drifted across France between April 27 and May 5, 1996.
In November 2000, a 31-year-old Frenchman suffering from thyroid cancer, Yohann van Wayenberghe, lost an attempt to have criminal proceedings launched against French officials for alleged bodily harm in connection with Chernobyl.
The case was thrown out on grounds he could not demonstrate a scientific link between his illness and the accident.