In a historic first, France has officially acknowledged that French Polynesians were forced into accepting almost 200 nuclear tests conducted over a 30-year period, as the French parliament issued the admission in a bill reforming the status of the collectivity of 118 islands in the South Pacific, reports The Telegraph.
The parliamentary bill acknowledges that the islands were “called upon”, or “strong-armed” into accepting the tests for the purposes of “building (its) nuclear deterrent and national defence”.
According to MPs this move should make it easier for the local population to request compensation for illnesses caused by radioactive fallout, such as cancer and others.
“It recognises the fact that local people’s health could have been affected and thus the French state’s responsibility in compensating them for such damage.
"Until now, the entire French discourse was that the tests were ‘clean’ — that was the actual word used — and that they had taken all due precautions for staff and locals.”
The expert also deplored the lengthy 23 years it had taken France to officially recognise its responsibility.
Scepticism was also voiced by Polynesian MP Moetai Brotherson, who claimed there were no specific steps towards financial reparation cited in the bill.
Polynesian MP Maina Sage insisted the reform was “recognition of clear acts of compensation” and “the fact that this should translate into support on a sanitary, ecological and economic level.”
Last year, French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch confessed the population of the islands had been lied to for years by its leaders regarding the dangers of nuclear testing.
“I’m not surprised that I’ve been called a liar for 30 years. We lied to this population that the tests were clean. We lied,” filmed footage showed Fritch as saying.
France carried out 193 nuclear tests from 1966 to 1996 around the paradise islands, including Bora Bora and Tahiti, famously captured on canvass by Paul Gauguin.
Bowing to decades of pressure, in 2010 the French government offered millions of euros in compensation for the government’s 201 nuclear tests in the South Pacific and Algeria.
— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) August 19, 2018
While this resulted in 1,500 cases of compensation for military and other personnel at the Polynesian nuclear sites, a clause suggesting the tests were of “negligible risk” for the rest of the population made it impossible for them to apply, despite disproportionate rates of thyroid cancer and leukemia among Polynesia’s 280,000 residents.
To date, only a few dozen have received compensation, despite compelling figures, such as cancer rates standing at 30 per cent above average.
Three years earlier, declassified defence ministry papers exposed the tests as more toxic than previously acknowledged amid reports that the whole of French Polynesia had been hit by levels of plutonium due to the testing.
Tahiti, the reports claimed, was exposed to 500 times the maximum accepted levels of radiation.