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ENVIRONMENT -
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Atoll still scarred by tests

Posted in the database on Monday, October 31st, 2005 @ 09:06:31 MST (1506 views)
by Michael Field    Fairfax Digital  

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Unexpectedly high levels of radioactive contamination are being discovered in French Polynesia almost a decade after nuclear testing ended on Mururoa Atoll, says the territory's President, Oscar Temaru.

Up to five people a day are being sent to private hospitals in Auckland for diagnosis and treatment for what may be radiation-related illnesses, officials say.

Mr Temaru has accused the French Government of covering up the health and environmental consequences of the testing.

France conducted 41 atmospheric nuclear tests over the Tuamotu atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa between 1966 and 1974.

It followed these with 134 underground nuclear tests at the same testing sites between 1975 and 1991. Eight more tests took place in 1995 and 1996.

In July Mr Temaru set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the tests. It was due to report back next month.

But he said the French Ministry of Defence was refusing to co-operate with the commission and was keeping secret files in Paris while insisting that Mururoa and Fangataufa were still off limits.

"One of them [commission members] told me they found out very strange, very high levels of contamination from the atoll of Tureia."

Tureia, 115 kilometres north-east of Mururoa, has about 100 people. It is the closest resident population to the test sites.

The inquiry commission head, Tea Hirshon, said its aim was to make a precise assessment of the effects of nuclear tests on the environment and the health of the Polynesians. "The major question put forth was to know whether or not the Mangarevans still live in a contaminated environment."

The news agency Tahitipresse reported last week that Bruno Chareyron, head of the independent French Commission on Radioactivity Research and Information, was unable to say whether there is or was radioactivity on Mangareva, in the Gambier Islands.

At the inquiry hearing on Mangareva, 450 kilometres south-east of Mururoa, witnesses talked of "an accident" on July 2, 1966, after which the French military bought vegetables in Papeete instead of locally and talked about children being covered with wounds after an atmospheric test.

A witness also told of an important French military official going to the island and leaving abruptly after a test.



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