International Disarmament Institute News

Pacific “Downwind” Countries

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Radioactive fallout from French and UK Pacific atmospheric nuclear weapons tests extended beyond the test sites and was detected throughout the Pacific region. For example, starting in 1957, Aotearoa New Zealand established a monitoring system to detect radiation levels across the Pacific, sampling air, water, milk and fish at stations located throughout the region, producing annual reports on the data. Fallout from French nuclear weapons testing was detected in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, Aotearoa New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. Australia also established a system for monitoring extra-territorial fallout and reported detecting fallout from French tests.

The US had its own network of radiation monitoring stations throughout the Pacific region, including in Tutuila, American Samoa. However, data on whether fallout extended to the UK, US and French South Pacific territories (American Samoa [Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by the US]; Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands [Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by the UK]; and Wallis and Futuna/Uvea mo Futuna [French Territory]) is not publically available. However, they lie in the vicinity of countries where fallout was detected. It is thus quite possible the 79,000 people living in these territories may also be considered at elevated risk of being victims of nuclear testing.

The following documents offer information on the humanitarian, human rights and environmental impact of fallout on countries downwind from Pacific, particularly French, nuclear tests. The International Disarmament Institute has also produced detailed reports on:

Key Indicators of Humanitarian, Human Rights and Environmental Harm from Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Testing in the Pacific

  • Monitoring systems of the Australian and Aotearoa New Zealand governments detected fallout from French Pacific nuclear testing across the South Pacific region, including in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu. The current population of these states – some 30 million people – may be considered at elevated risk of being victims of nuclear testing.
  • A further 79,000 people live in the non-self-governing territories administered by the US, UK and France that were in the vicinity, but were not included in Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand’s monitoring systems; it is possible they too may be considered at elevated risk of being victims of nuclear testing
  • Mexico and Peru also reported fallout from French Pacific nuclear testing.
  • There is evidence of ongoing venting and leaching of radiation from the test sites in French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, which may pose a threat to the marine environment of the South Pacific.

Some of the same countries were exposed to other forms of harm from nuclear weapons:

  • 16,000 Australian and 12,000 Aotearoa New Zealand soldiers risked exposure to radiation from the atomic bombings in Japan, as PoWs and occupation forces.
  • 16,000 military and civilian Australians took part in the 12 atmospheric British nuclear weapons testing program between 1952-1963 on Australian territories.
  • The British nuclear weapons tests left a legacy of environmental contamination.
  • There were an additional 600 British ‘minor trials’ – subcritical tests – that spread radiological and toxic contamination across the South Australia desert.
  • Many veterans of the tests and Japanese occupation have health problems consistent with exposure to radiation; descendants also report multi-generational health problems.
  • Mining of uranium and storage of nuclear waste poses humanitarian and environmental hazards, especially to Indigenous communities in Australia.
  • Aotearoa New Zealand troops were deployed to UK test sites (11 in Australia; 551 to Kiribati). 551 New Zealand Navy sailors deployed to protest 1973 Moruoa tests. 
  • 276 Fijian troops participated in the UK nuclear weapons tests in Kiribati

Official Documents

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). (n.d.) “France’s Nuclear Testing Programme.” External link.

Fiji. (6 September 2018) “Statement by H.E. Dr. Satyendra Prasad, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations at the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly to Commemorate and Promote the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.” Download.

Fiji, Nauru, Palau, Samoa and Tuvalu. (3 March 2016) Elements for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. A/AC.286/WP.14. Geneva, UN General Assembly. External link.

International Court of Justice. (1973) Nuclear Tests (New Zealand vs. France). External link.

International Court of Justice. (1995) Nuclear Tests (New Zealand and Australia vs. France). External link.

Kiribati. (2014) “Joint Statement on Behalf of Pacific Island Nations: Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Nayarit, Mexico, 13-14 February 2014.” External link.

K.M. Matthews. (1992/1993) Radioactive fallout in the South Pacific: A History. Part 2: Radioactivity measurements in the Pacific Islands. Christchurch, National Radiation Laboratory. Download.

National Radiation Laboratory. (1969-2011) Reports of the New Zealand Fallout Monitoring System. Download page.

New Zealand Veterans’ Affairs. (2017) “Research on New Zealand’s nuclear veterans.” External link.

Samoa. (2014) “Statement to 2014 conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Nayarit, Mexico.” External link.

Academic Studies

Bengt Danielsson. (1990) “Poisoned Pacific: The Legacy of French Nuclear Testing.” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 46(2). pp. 22-31. External link.

Nic Maclellan. (2017) Grappling with the Bomb: Britain’s Pacific H-Bomb Tests. Acton, ANU Press. External link.

Rebekah Leigh Johnson. (2009) “Psychological Fallout”: The Effects of Nuclear Radiation Exposure.” Doctor of Clinical Psychology thesis, Massey University. External link.

Sue Rabbitt Roff. (1999) “Mortality and morbidity of members of the British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association and the New Zealand Nuclear Tests Veterans Association and their families.” Medicine, conflict and survival. 15(Suppl. 1). pp. i-ix, 1-51. External link.

Catherine Trundle. (2011) “Searching for Culpability in the Archives: Commonwealth Nuclear Test Veterans’ Claims for Compensation.” History and Anthropology. 22(4). pp. 497-512. External link.

M.A. Wahab et al. (2008) “Elevated chromosome translocation frequencies in New Zealand test veterans.” Cytogenetic and Genome Research. 12(2). pp. 79-87. External link.

Civil Society and Thinktank Studies

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). (n.d.) “Fangataufa and Moruroa, French Polynesia.” Hibakusha Worldwide. External link.

IPPNW. (1991) “Environmental Effects of French Nuclear Testing.” External link.

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