The people of French Polynesia ask Paris to come to terms with history, presenting an apology for the devastating impact of thirty years of nuclear tests carried out by France, on the occasion of the visit of President Emmanuel Macron, the first for the leader in the Pacific archipelago.
In his four-day visit – reports an Elysée official quoted by the AFP – Macron “will encourage several concrete steps” regarding the consequences of the nuclear tests carried out in the archipelago from 1966 to 1996, with the opening of state archives and individual compensation. And from the victims and the organizations that represent them, pressure is growing on the head of the Elysée. “We are expecting an apology from the president,” said Auguste Uebe-Carlson, who heads Association 193, which takes its name from the number of nuclear tests carried out in the area. “Just as he recognized colonization in Algeria as a crime, we expect that here in the Pacific too he will declare that there has been a form of criminal colonization linked to nuclear power.” Meanwhile, the Collective of July 17 plans to hold at least three events during Macron’s trip.
After 17 nuclear tests in the Sahara, France transferred its experiments in 1966 to French Polynesia, on the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, where it carried out 193 new tests in thirty years. Earlier this month, French officials denied any cover-up on radiation exposure in a meeting with semi-autonomous territory delegates led by French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch.
The meeting came after French investigative website Disclose reported in March that the impact of the tests was much larger than authorities had acknowledged, citing declassified French military documents.
Only 63 Polynesian civilians have been compensated for radiation exposure since the tests ended in 1996, Disclose wrote, estimating that more than 100,000 people may have been affected in total, with leukemias, lymphomas and other cancers. Patrick Galenon, the former president of the Territory’s CPS Social Insurance Fund, said Polynesian women between the ages of 40 and 50 “have the highest rates of thyroid cancer in the world” and that the fund spent 670 millions of euros to treat radiation-induced diseases since 1985.
Residents of French Polynesia – which with a population of around 280,000 covers an area comparable in size to Western Europe – therefore hope that Macron will apologize and confirm compensation for the radiation victims. But the issue of nuclear tests is not the only one addressed by the head of the Elysée during the trip, initially scheduled for 2020 but postponed due to the pandemic.
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