Former German soldiers suffering from cancer after being exposed to high radiation from radar equipment during the Cold War are suing the government for compensation. The case opens in a Bonn court on Friday.
A risky job.
The plantiffs in the case say they developed cancer because of handling insufficiently-insulated radar equipment during the 1960s and 1970s. Four former West German Army radar technicians and the widow of a former soldier are seeking at least €60,000 ($73,208) each in damages.
The case is the first among almost 900 such pending lawsuits, demanding compensation for pain and suffering caused by the working conditions involving radar technology in the former West Germany.
It follows similar proceedings that opened last month in a court in Frankfurt an der Oder, in which members of the former army of the communist German Democratic Republic are seeking damages for radiation exposure during the Cold War.
High radiation risk during Cold War
Hundreds of soldiers from both East and West Germany are believed to have suffered from exposure to radiation during the 1960s and 70s. During the Cold War, American-made radar technology was a common part of NATO defense systems stationed along the border with Eastern Bloc nations.
According to law firm Geulen and Klinger, which is representing the radar victims, radiation resulting from insufficiently-shielded high-voltage ducts contained within radar equipment used at the time was responsible for later illnesses among soldiers such as kidney, lung and testicular cancer as well as leukemia. The lawyers accuse the German army of "systematically ignoring" the protection of repair and servicing teams for the radar technology during the entire period of the Cold War, right until the 1980s.
The German Defense Ministry, acting upon the recommendations of an expert commission -- which concluded it was "highly probable" the victims were exposed to radiation by the radar devices -- has fundamentally agreed to providing medical care for 292 cancer patients so far, but has ruled out paying any additional compensation for the suffering.
According to radiation expert Bernd Ramm, who has set up an organization to support the radiation victims, a total of 3,000 applications seeking damages have been filed by former soldiers of the West and East German army.
Lawsuit against U.S. defense firms
Separately, lawyers Reiner Geulen and Remo Klinger have filed a lawsuit against American. defense firms Raytheon, Lucent Technologies and ITT Industries, that produced much of the radar equipment during the Cold War. The lawyers are seeking compensation of up to a million euro each for 450 sick soldiers.
One of them, Karl Heinz Bleich, told Reuters in January this year that he wasn't informed about the dangers of radiation. "I was working in a mobile radar unit for two years up until 1969," he said. "I never heard the term x-rays being mentioned in those years, and I didn't find it printed in any military handbook. Just imagine, we even slept in those trucks right next to the equipment."