French Polynesia’s entire population infected by French government nuclear tests in last century

A French nuclear test in September 1971, at Mururoa Atoll.Image AP

The report shows for the first time exactly how big the impact has been on the population of the paradise archipelago, which lies about 6,000 kilometers east of the Australian coast. The research focuses specifically on tests between 1966 and 1974. In a test in 1974 alone, 110,000 people were exposed to large amounts of radiation without warning, almost the entire population of the archipelago at the time. Of the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia, 67 are inhabited.

Disastrous consequences

Disclose based the investigation on documents that the French army made public in 2013 under great pressure from interest groups. This showed at the time that the inhabitants of the densely populated island of Tahiti, for example, had been exposed to 500 times the radiation dose that a human can tolerate. For the investigation, the more than 2,000 pages of military documents were re-examined. The effects of the nuclear tests were visualized in 3D models. The researchers were assisted in this by a physicist from the American University of Princeton.

It has been known for some time that the nuclear tests in French Polynesia had disastrous consequences for the population. Cancers such as pancreatic cancer and leukemia are extremely common in the population, about 295,000 people in total. In 2006, an investigation committee of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) already determined that the experiments were harmful and that there was an increase in people with cancer in the vicinity of the test sites.

But the actual numbers are much higher, the researchers say Disclose. For example, the effect of drinking water contaminated by radiation has not been taken into account. Last year, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) concluded that no firm conclusions could be drawn from the documents about the nuclear tests.

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193 nuclear tests

The new research could potentially ensure that more people in French Polynesia are entitled to compensation. Since 2010, the French government has already released several hundred million euros for this. Interest groups for victims and relatives have been fighting for recognition and compensation for years. During a visit to the archipelago in 2016, then President François Hollande admitted that the French government had made mistakes. At the same time, he praised the island group’s contribution to the French nuclear program.

Between 1966 and 1996, the French government carried out 193 nuclear tests in French Polynesia. Nuclear testing began on July 2, 1966, with a bomb called “Aldebaran” (after the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, a so-called red giant) near Moruroa Atoll. Before 1966, France experimented with nuclear bombs in the Sahara Desert of Algeria, which was a French colony until 1962.

France became a nuclear power during the Cold War. A nuclear weapons program was set up under President Charles de Gaulle. The first test took place in 1960. Incidentally, the United States also used the Pacific Ocean as a testing ground. They conducted tests around the Marshall Islands.

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