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Nuclear colonialism and French nuclear tests, Polynesia

French Polynesia was used as a nuclear test territory for over 30 years affecting the environment and health of thousands for local dwellers. Up to 2019, struggles for compensations and reparations to the victims still continue.


In the 1960s, the Algerian Independence War forced France to move their nuclear tests out of the Sahara Desert. The new location chosen for the tests was French Polynesia (FP), in particular, the Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Nuclear colonialism and French nuclear tests, Polynesia
Country:French Polynesia
State or province:French Polynesia
Location of conflict:Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Military installations
Nuclear power plants
Specific commodities:Nuclear tests
Nuclear tests
Project Details and Actors
Project details

- 193 nuclear tests were done over three decades until the president Jacques Chirac ended the program in the 1990s.

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Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:290,000
Start of the conflict:1966
Relevant government actors:Centre d'Expérimentation du Pacifique (CEP), French Army, French National Radiation Laboratory (FNRL), Polynesian Territorial Assembly (local government), French International Court of Justice (ICJ),
International organizations: United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), World Health Organization (WHO),
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Observatoire des Armements (OdA), Association chrétienne 193, Greenpeace
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
1) International Organisations; 2) Not exactly trade unions but a groups of ex workers :
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Boycotts of companies-products
1) Involvement of International Organisations (United Nations); 2) Boycotts not only to companies-products but with a governmental perspective (all French goods)
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Other Environmental impacts1) fish poisoning 2) thyroid cancers
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impacts1) Breast, lung and thyroid cancer have been identified as the most common types of cancer 2) Health damages through the ingestion of poisoned fish
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Withdrawal of company/investment
Promises of radiation monitoring, despite a victory for environmental justice the French government ignored the court injunction order. One photographer with Greenpeace (Fernando Pereira) was killed by the French secret service as the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in its route to Muroroa.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:CIVEN’s implementation in 2010 is an important step to achieve compensation for the people affected by nuclear tests in FP. Nonetheless, the fact that France keeps restricting information on its activities in the Pacific makes it difficult for people to establish a correlation between disease and nuclear contamination. Despite Hollande’s recognition in 2016 of the impacts of nuclear tests, there is still a lack of political actions showing the French State is honestly concerned with the victims and willing to assume responsibility.
As mentioned by Archibugi (2004), it would have been impossible for the French State to perform these tests in French European territory. Something that the Government and the military saw as central to France’s national security, as the maintenance of its model of democracy, has been carried at the cost of the Polynesian Community.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

LOI n° 2010-2 du 5 janvier 2010 relative à la reconnaissance et à l'indemnisation des victimes des essais nucléaires français "Loi Morin" authorizing compensation to people who had developed cancers because of nuclear tests in Algeria and FP.
[click to view]

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

"Under a Cloud of Secrecy: The French Nuclear Tests in the Southeastern Pacific" Bengt Danielsson. Ambio

Vol. 13, No. 5/6, The South Pacific (1984), pp. 336-341
[click to view]

Archibugi, Daniele. 2004. “Cosmopolitan Democracy and Its Critics: A Review.” European Journal of International Relations 10 (3): 437–73.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Beyond radioactivity: how French nuclear tests changed Polynesia forever
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Committee for the Compensation of Nuclear Test Victims, or CIVEN
[click to view]

France faces Hague complaint over Polynesia nuclear tests
[click to view]

‘Crimes against humanity:’ France to face lawsuit in ICC over nuclear tests in French Polynesia
[click to view]

La Polynésie marquée à jamais par les essais nucléaires français
[click to view]

Hollande reconnaît «l'impact» des essais nucléaires en Polynésie
[click to view]

Essais nucléaires en Polynésie : une plainte déposée pour crime contre l'humanité
[click to view]

Que sait-on des victimes des essais nucléaires français ?
[click to view]

Crimes against humanity:’ France to face a lawsuit in ICC over nuclear tests in French Polynesia
[click to view]

Les anciens travailleurs polynésiens des sites nucléaires de Moruroa et Fangataufa créent une association
[click to view]

Les retombées sur Mangareva
[click to view]

Other documents

A picture taken in 1971 showing a nuclear explosion in Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia Source: AFP
[click to view]

The monument dedicated to the Victims of the French Nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean in Papeete, French Polynesia. Source: AFP _ Gregory Boissy
[click to view]

Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior
[click to view]

Other comments:“French nuclear tests as no less than the direct result of colonization” French Polynesia’s former president, Oscar Temaru.
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Contributor:ENVJustice Project (G.N)
Last update05/05/2019
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