Berlin (CNSNews.com) - Hundreds of former German soldiers are suing their Defense Ministry for $350 million in damages, claiming they contracted cancer from exposure to damaging rays from U.S.-built radar equipment forming part of NATO's defense systems along the erstwhile Iron Curtain.
Reiner Geulen, an attorney representing the ex-servicemen, said a separate lawsuit would be filed in the U.S. against the manufacturers of the radar systems.
The plaintiffs claim to have developed various types of cancer, including leukemia and testicular cancer, blaming the diseases on constant exposure to x-ray radiation while working on the radar systems between the late 1950s and early 1980s.
Lawsuits are likely to be filed in the United States in May on behalf of some 400 soldiers, although the law firm has refused to divulge the names of the companies to be targeted.
The lawyers argue that the equipment was imperfectly set up, and lacked shielding devices.
It is widely known here that radar systems used in Germany were manufactured by U.S. companies like Raytheon, General Electric, Lockheed Martin and Lucent.
So far, cases have been filed in district courts in Bonn, on behalf of four former West German soldiers, and in Frankfurt am Oder on behalf of two former East German soldiers.
Geulen described the six as "test cases," saying any court rulings would apply to the remaining clients.
He said his firm represents a total of 773 plaintiffs, mostly former soldiers or surviving relatives in cases of those who have died. The majority served in the former West German army, the Bundeswehr.
Geulen alleges the German military knew about the radiation risk, but did not warn its soldiers working on the systems, nor take any precautions, in violation of safety regulations.
The radar systems formed part of NATO defenses along the borders with East Bloc nations, to monitor troop and flight movements. Some were dismantled after the allegations of cancer surfaced in late 1980s, but a few systems are still operational. Precautions have now been taken to ensure the safety of soldiers working on them.
In mid-2001, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping announced an investigation into the allegations of a radiation-cancer link.
Some 1,560 Germans then filed applications claiming to have suffered from cancer after being exposed to the radiation. Out of the nearly 500 applications since processed by the ministry, in only eight cases have officials agreed there was a link, and that the soldiers concerned were eligible for a pension increase.
Out of 408 applications filed by former East German soldiers or their survivors, the defense ministry has taken a decision in 77 of the cases, and ruled that none of them had developed cancer because of exposure to x-ray radiation.
The plaintiffs are suing for a minimum of 60,000 euros (about $52,400) each, while children of soldiers, who have been born with deformities allegedly linked to exposure, are seeking payouts of at least 500,000 euros ($436,700) each.
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