What will it take for France to take responsibility for its extensive nuclear testing across its colonies and what are the effects of the radioactive legacy they left behind?
French Polynesia has filed a case at the International Criminal Court against France for crimes against humanity, regarding over 193 nuclear tests conducted there over three decades, according to a French Polynesian opposition leader on Tuesday, October 2.
"We owe it to all the people who died from the consequences of nuclear colonialism," said former President Oscar Temaru, speaking at the UN Committee focused on decolonisation.
France has not recognised its legacy of nuclear testing in its colonies, and had also conducted extensive nuclear tests in Algeria.
Nuclear tests, by force
"We see French nuclear tests as no less than the direct result of colonisation," said Temaru.
He noted that the nuclear tests were against the people’s will, "with the direct threat of imposing military rule if we refused."
Temaru, who favors independence, said France has "ignored and shown contempt" for repeated offers since 2013 to come to the table under UN supervision.
In 2010 however, France passed a law providing compensation to military veterans and French civilians affected by the program. Citizens of its former colonies went largely ignored.
The gruesome effects of radiation poisoning
Acute radiation poisoning is a horrific condition. Short term symptoms, usually followed by death include:
- Internal bleeding of organs
- Bloody diarrhoea
- Mental confusion
- Multiple organ failure
- Peeling skin
- End to blood cell and antibody production
- Liquified bone marrow
- Shaking, seizures and loss of muscle control
- Acidic boiling blood
- Falling hair
Those who survive, must deal with higher incidences of cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutations for generations. If the sources of radiation are still present, it would present a continuous condition.
42,000 Algerians killed in Algeria’s radioactive deserts
Meanwhile, French Polynesia is not the only nation to suffer France's radioactive legacy. The effects of French nuclear testing in Algeria will linger for many more decades.
Ammar Mansouri said, “The most despicable crimes perpetrated by colonial France [occurred] in Algeria,” during a conference in the capital, Algiers, earlier this month.
Radioactive plutonium used in these nuclear tests are responsible for high levels of skin cancer in Southern Algeria, among many other illnesses, said Mustapha Khiati, head of the Promotion of Health and Research Development.
Experts say nearly "42,000 Algerians have been killed, with thousands irradiated in 17 nuclear tests conducted by France between 1960 and 1966."
The tests were conducted even while France was coming to terms with Algeria’s coming independence.
Estimates of the number of Algerians affected by testing ranges from 27,000 to 60,000, according to a figure given by Abdul Kadhim al Aboudi, an Algerian professor of nuclear physics.
When France finally left, it buried contaminated objects throughout its former test sites. Scrap metal from towers that detonated the bombs, engine parts from planes contaminated by radioactive mushroom clouds, and trucks placed near the blast to test the blast strength.
Algerians, who were not informed about the hazards of radiation, continued to live by these sites, draw water from its wells, and in some cases stripped metals and used them for pots and spoons.
Residents of southern Algeria reported the strange rise in medical issues that first appeared during the 1970s and persist to the present day.
Babies born with atrophied limbs; liver, stomach and skin cancers; and blindness among those who witnessed the brutal nuclear flashes when the bombs were detonated. In Reggane, south Algeria, many were praying their morning fajr prayers when one detonation took place.
After an independence war that claimed more than a million souls, and more than half a century later, France has yet to shoulder full responsibility for its dark colonial legacy.
French Polynesia expects the same.