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
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
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.