International Disarmament Institute News

French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi

NOTE THIS ARCHIVE IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION

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Between 1966 and 1996, France conducted 179 nuclear weapons tests at Moruroa Atoll (42 atmospheric; 137 underground) and 14 at Fangataufa Atoll (4 atmospheric; 10 underground) in French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi. The nuclear explosions contaminated marine environments and may have increased the incidence of thyroid cancer in the local population, mainly as a result of contaminated of the food and water supply. The tests damaged the atolls themselves; there is an ongoing threat of collapse or leakage of radioactive contamination. Radioactive particles were dispersed over much of French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, including its most populated island, Tahiti. The entire current population of 280,000 people may thus be at elevated risk of being potential victims of nuclear weapons testing.

The impact of French nuclear weapons testing extended far beyond French Polynesia. Fallout was detected in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, New Zealand/Aotearoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau (see the New Zealand Fallout Monitoring System page). It is possible that the fallout also spread to American Samoa (US Territory); Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands (UK Territory); and Wallis and Futuna (French Territory), all non-self-governing territories in the South Pacific that were not included in the New Zealand Fallout Monitoring System. For our reports on the individual countries/territories, click on the links in this paragraph.

Key Indicators of Humanitarian, Human Rights and Environmental Harm from French Pacific Nuclear Weapons Testing

  • 179 nuclear weapons tests at Moruroa Atoll (42 atmospheric; 137 underground) and 14 at Fangataufa Atoll (4 atmospheric; 10 underground) in French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi
  • Indigenous workers employed in the clean-up of Moruroa atoll received less protection than those in the French government’s Radiological Safety Service
  • The entire current population of French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, 280,000 people, may be considered at elevated risk of being victims of nuclear weapons testing
  • New Zealand’s Fallout Monitoring System detected fallout across the South Pacific region, including in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, New Zealand/Aotearoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. The entire current population of these states — almost 6 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 of islands that received fallout but were not included in New Zealand’s monitoring system; it is possible they too may be considered at elevated risk of being victims of 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 maritime environment of the South Pacific
  • New Zealand posted two frigates near Moruroa in 1973 to protest French testing; the 551 crew may have been exposed to radiation

Official Documents

Paul Tony Adams et al. (2006) Rapport sur la reconnaissance par l’État des droits des victimes des essais nucléaires français et leurs impacts
sur l’environnement, l’économie, le social et la santé publique en Polynésie française. External link.

l’Assemblée de la Polynésie française. (2009) Moruroa: Memorial des Essais Nucléaires. External link.

l’Assemblée de la Polynésie française. (2009) “Les demandes d’enquêtes parlementaires.” Moruroa: Memorial des Essais Nucléaires. External link.

H.R. Atkinson, et al. (1983) Report of a New Zealand, Australian, and Papua New Guinea Scientific Mission to Moruroa Atoll, October-November 1983. Wellington, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs. External link.

CFDT. (1981) “Contamination à Moruroa.” External link.

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

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.

French Atomic Energy Commission. (1988) “Memorandum of the Directorate for Nuclear Test Centers, August 25, 1988.” Villecoublay, France

International Atomic Energy Agency. (1998) The Radiological Situation at the Atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa. Vienna, IAEA. 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. External link.

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.

Haroun Tazieff. (1982) “Le Rapport Tazieff.” External link.

Academic Studies

P. Brindel et al. (2010) “Family history of thyroid cancer and the risk of differentiated thyroid cancer in French polynesia.” Thyroid. 20(4). pp. 393-400. External link.

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

Maclellan, Nic & Jean Chesneaux. (1998) After Moruroa: France in the South Pacific. Melbourne, Ocean Press.

Civil Society and Thinktank Studies

Bruno Barillot and Heinui Le Caill. (2011) Moruroa: La Bombe et Nous. Papeete, DSCEN. External link. External link to English translation: “Moruroa: The Bomb and Us”.

Pieter de Vries & Han Seur. (1997) Moruroa and us: Polynesians’ experiences during thirty years of nuclear testing in the French Pacific. Lyon, Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Paix et les Conflits.

Fondation Cousteau. (1988) Mission Scientifique de la Calypso sur le Site D’Experimentations Nucleaires de Mururoa. External link.

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.

Anne Sandstorm. (27 June 2017) ‘The bomb and us.’ Peace and Health Blog. External link.

In-Depth News Media Coverage

ABC. (2014) “Effects of nuclear tests in French Polynesia remains a major concern: veterans.” ABC News. External link.

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