In Brief

‘Toxic heritage’ of French nuclear testing exposed by new research

Findings pave way for more than 100,000 people affected by carcinogenic fallout to claim compensation

France may be facing tens of thousands of compensation claims after a new study found that the impact of the country’s nuclear testing in French Polynesia in the 1960s and 1970s has been vastly underestimated.

Researchers on The Moruroa Files project have “meticulously reconstructed three key nuclear tests and their fallout” after “crunching the data from 2,000 pages of recently declassified French Defence Ministry documents, analysing maps, photos and other records, and carrying out dozens of interviews in France and French Polynesia”, The Guardian reports.

The new calculations indicate that “the actual radiation doses received by the residents” of the islands are far higher than those previously reported by the French authorities - and point to a link between the tests and “multiple cases of cancer that have emerged” in the region, the paper says.

“The state has tried hard to bury the toxic heritage of these tests,” said Geoffrey Livolsi, editor-in-chief of Disclose, an investigative journalism newsroom that collaborated on the project along with teams from Princeton University and environmental justice research collective Interprt.

Livolsi is heralding their research as “the first truly independent scientific attempt to measure the scale of the damage and to acknowledge the thousands of victims of France’s nuclear experiment in the Pacific”.

Between 1936 and 1996, France conducted 193 nuclear tests around French Polynesia, including 41 atmospheric tests that exposed residents to particles that can cause leukemia, lymphoma, and cancer of the thyroid, lung, breast and stomach, the project found.

“Approximately 110,000 people were infected, almost the entire Polynesian population at the time,” the researchers write. Yet “the French authorities have concealed the true impact of nuclear testing on the health of Polynesians for more than 50 years”.

The team also claim that the French military sent confidential emails in 2017 acknowledging that up to 2,000 of the 6,000 military personnel based in French Polynesia who were involved in the testing between 1966 and 1976 have since developed cancer.

Despite the scale of the disaster, “France did not establish a compensation board for civilian and military victims until 2010”, The Guardian reports. 

And the board has so far paid compensation to only 454 people, of whom just 63 are local residents, after “rejecting more than 80% of claims without having to justify its decisions”.

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