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.


Description

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
NameNuclear colonialism and French nuclear tests, Polynesia
CountryFrench Polynesia
ProvinceFrench Polynesia
SiteMururoa 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 CommoditiesNuclear 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.

- The tests had provoked 368 instances of radioactive fallout.

- Radioactive waste had also been dumped into the ocean in violation of the international rules.

- 9,500 people have been diagnosed with cancer in the last 15 years. The total population of the French Pacific territory is about 290,000.

-FP’s Territorial Assembly demanded $US 930 million in compensation for Radioactive pollution and $US 132 million for the occupation of the Fangataufa and Mururoa atolls, used during the tests.
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population290,000
Start Date1966
Relevant government actorsCentre 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 organisations and other supportersObservatoire des Armements (OdA), Association chrétienne 193, Greenpeace
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous 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 : http://obsarm.org/spip.php?article20
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment 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)
Impacts
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)
Other1) 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
Other1) 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-economic 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
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Deaths
Institutional changes
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Migration/displacement
Migration/displacement
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 as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials
Legislations

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
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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]

References

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

Links

Beyond radioactivity: how French nuclear tests changed Polynesia forever
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Committee for the Compensation of Nuclear Test Victims, or CIVEN
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France faces Hague complaint over Polynesia nuclear tests
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‘Crimes against humanity:’ France to face lawsuit in ICC over nuclear tests in French Polynesia
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La Polynésie marquée à jamais par les essais nucléaires français
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Hollande reconnaît «l'impact» des essais nucléaires en Polynésie
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Essais nucléaires en Polynésie : une plainte déposée pour crime contre l'humanité
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Que sait-on des victimes des essais nucléaires français ?
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Crimes against humanity:’ France to face a lawsuit in ICC over nuclear tests in French Polynesia
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Les anciens travailleurs polynésiens des sites nucléaires de Moruroa et Fangataufa créent une association
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Les retombées sur Mangareva
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Other Documents

A picture taken in 1971 showing a nuclear explosion in Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia Source: AFP
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The monument dedicated to the Victims of the French Nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean in Papeete, French Polynesia. Source: AFP _ Gregory Boissy
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Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior
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Other Comments“French nuclear tests as no less than the direct result of colonization” French Polynesia’s former president, Oscar Temaru.
Meta Information
ContributorENVJustice Project (G.N)
Last update05/05/2019
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