France denies covering up nuclear tests near French Polynesia in the Pacific

The French government on Friday denied any cover-up about radiation levels in the Pacific after the region’s nuclear tests, as state-sponsored discussions took place in Paris over the legacy of the explosions.

A two-day meeting, called by French President Emmanuel Macron, began Thursday after new allegations that the 1966 to 1996 tests caused hidden atmospheric and ground radiation.

“There was no state cover-up,” Genevieve Darrieusseq, junior defense minister, told AFP in a brief comment on the sidelines of the event, where she ruled out any official apology from France.

In March, the research website Disclose caused a stir when it said it had analyzed some 2,000 pages of declassified French military documents about the nearly 200 tests conducted around French Polynesia.

Working with statistical experts and academics from Princeton University in the US, it concluded that “French authorities have been hiding the real impact of nuclear testing on the health of Polynesians for more than 50 years.”

The roundtables were attended by three French ministers, as well as Macron himself, who made no public comment on Thursday after participating.

Edouard Fritch, the president of French Polynesia, a semi-autonomous French territory, said Macron had promised to open military records on the tests, a key demand from historians, and that he would visit Tahiti on July 25.

Only data that could lead to nuclear proliferation should be kept secret.

“We felt the president had a real desire to turn this painful page for all of us, with the resources to be mobilized in the future so that Polynesians can rebuild the faith we have always had in France,” Fritch said Friday. .

The event has been criticized by some Polynesian politicians, as well as anti-nuclear campaigners and historians, who say state secret laws prevented them from properly investigating.

Mutai Brotherson, an independence advocate who sits in the national parliament and represents the archipelago, refused to attend unless France apologized for the tests.

His party, the Tavini Huiraatira, said it would host a rival event in Tahiti on Friday.

A fee

Over the past year, Macron has shown a willingness to address historically taboo issues for France, including his bloody colonial history in Algeria and his role in Rwanda in the run-up to the 1994 genocide.

The nuclear tests remain a source of deep resentment and anger in French Polynesia, where they are seen as evidence of colonial or even racist attitudes that ignored the lives of islanders.

The US and Britain also conducted dozens of nuclear tests in the Pacific during the Cold War arms race.

So far, according to Disclose, only 63 French Polynesian civilians, excluding soldiers and contractors, have received compensation for radiation exposure from the nuclear tests.

The website said it had reassessed pollution in the Gambier Islands, Tureia and Tahiti after the six nuclear tests deemed the most polluting in the history of French tests in the Pacific.

It claimed that its conclusions differed greatly from those of the French Commission for Alternative Energy and Atomic Energy (CEA), whose figures served as a reference for compensating victims of the tests.

In one case, Disclose said radioactive soil deposits on an atoll had been underestimated by more than 40 percent, while a total of more than 100,000 people may have been infected.

protests

France conducted 193 nuclear tests in French Polynesia over three decades until former President Jacques Chirac ended the program in the 1990s during an international protest campaign.

In 2016, during a trip to the region, former President Francois Hollande acknowledged that the tests had “an impact” on health and the environment and pledged to revamp the compensation process.

From 1960 to 1966, France also conducted 17 nuclear tests at desert sites in Algeria, where activists continue to push for compensation and clean-up operations.

(AFP)

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