French President Emmanuel Macron said France was in debt to French Polynesia over nuclear tests that were conducted in the Pacific territory in the 1960s and 1970s.
Speaking in Papeete on Tuesday, Macron said: “I want to break the silence today to make the whole truth heard so it is shared and so the whole world knows exactly what was done and what was known, and what is known today. Everything, everything. I take responsibility and I want truth and transparency with you.”
Paris carried out 193 nuclear tests, of which 41 were above the ground, at the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa in French Polynesia between 1966 and 1996 as part of its nuclear weapons development programme.
Macron added that France “owes a debt to French Polynesia”, admitting that “we absolutely cannot say that they [nuclear tests] were clean – no”.
In March this year, a groundbreaking report revealed the extent of harm caused to the local population by the tests.
The study, called the Moruroa Files, took two years to be completed and was a collaboration between the French media NGO Disclose, British environmental justice research collective Interprt, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and the Science & Global Security programme at Princeton University.
To reconstruct the contamination events after the nuclear explosions – mainly Aldébaran in 1966, Encelade in 1971, and Centaure in 1974 – the researchers looked at data from around 2,000 declassified documents, as well as photos and maps. They interviewed Polynesianians, French military staff and other relevant people and organisations.
The study concluded that around 90% of the population of Polynesia was affected by radioactive fallout.
Disclose’s editor-in-chief Geoffrey Livolsi called the investigation “the first truly independent scientific attempt to measure the scale of the damage and to acknowledge the thousands of victims of France’s nuclear experiment in the Pacific.”
The authors of the report said that the French government had “concealed the true impact of nuclear testing on the health of Polynesians for more than 50 years” and that France had vastly underestimated the impact of its policies.
Princeton’s Sébastien Philippe explained that France had chosen Polynesia as a test site after it could no longer carry out similar tests in Algeria following the country’s independence.
President Macron’s declaration today comes after a two-day discussion in Paris where the government promised to “share information without taboo” on the matter.