A spring desert wind laced with radioactive dust has struck France, but it's nothing compared to what Algerians have faced as a result of France's testing of nuclear weapons in former colonies.
Left unspoken is France’s legacy in former colonies that continue to suffer from much higher levels of radiation until today.
Alarming reports of a radiation spike emerged in France, after the effects of its past nuclear tests conducted in Algeria are coming home to roost.
The dust was found to contain abnormal levels of radiation, ironically caused by French nuclear tests in Algeria in the early 1960s. In a further twist, French citizens commented on the beautiful blood orange sunsets the occluding dust caused.
Acro, a French NGO that monitors radiation levels says the radioactive dust reaches all the way to the French-Swiss border. The NGO estimates that there were 80,000 bq of radiation per square kilometre in France, which translates to a potential 800 sieverts of radioactive exposure.
To put that into perspective, that’s just 200 sieverts shy of the dangerous 1000 sievert limit that can cause non-lethal radiation sickness. Chernobyl workers were exposed to over 6000 sieverts, which caused death in a month. Over 10,000 sieverts is a death sentence.
Acro added that France needed to recognize the impact of its nuclear testing in former colonies.
What about radiation levels in Algeria?
Multiple Algerian researchers have found unusually high levels of ambient radiation, far in excess of the spike in radiation that alarmed France.
In 1993, a soil sampling survey found 8 different radioactive waste compounds. This was on top of naturally radon radiation in the air, well above normal baseline levels. For countries like France, naturally occurring radiation is hardly a problem. Taken with radiation from nuclear testing however, Algeria finds itself dangerously close to poisonous exposure levels.
To confirm this, the International Atomic Energy Agency sent a fact-finding mission to Algeria to investigate concerns of lingering radiation.
The survey found that someone could pick up 120 sieverts of radiation over three days in certain regions. International safety standards for radiation workers set a maximum limit of 100 sieverts over 5 years. Chernobyl’s evacuated residents were exposed to 350 sieverts, and while it did not constitute a lethal dose, the city and its descendants continue to struggle with birth defects and malformations to the present day.
The strong desert stream that blew radioactive dust across the Mediterannean to France has less distance to cover when it comes to distributing radioactive fallout across Algeria’s interior.
Experts estimate that France’s 17 nuclear test sites killed nearly 42,000 Algerians, and irradiated thousands of others across the span of 6 years.
Abdul Kahdim al Aboudi, Algerian nuclear physics professor, reports that between 27,000 to 60,000 Algerians were affected by the radiation levels.
To make matters worse, France has not released classified archives of where it buried radioactive material, in spite of insistent requests by Algeria.
France also hid actual radiation levels from former-colony French Polynesia, where nuclear testing began after its experiments in Algeria ended in 1966 all the way to 1996.
A report concludes that the “entire population” of the country is affected.
Disclose, an investigative outfit, reports that it studied over 2000 pages of declassified French military documents.
For just one nuclear test carried out in July 1974, the group states “according to our calculations, based on a scientific reassessment of the doses received, approximately 110,000 people were infected, almost the entire Polynesian population at the time.”
Up to the present day, only 63 Polynesian civilians have received compensation. For Algeria, France has refused to extend an apology or recognize its mistake.
After the nuclear tests, Algeria was home to a rise in medical abnormalities that appeared a generation later in 1970, which continue until today.
Children born with shortened limbs, cancer, and blindness are not uncommon.
A birth defect foundation reports that Algeria ranks in the upper-third of nations that suffer a high degree of birth defects.