France has officially acknowledged for the first time that French Polynesians were effectively forced into accepting almost 200 nuclear tests conducted over a 30-year period, and that it is responsible for compensating them for the illnesses caused by the fallout.
The French parliament issued the much-awaited admission in a bill reforming the status of the collectivity of 118 islands in the South Pacific, with MPs saying the change should make it easier for the local population to request compensation for cancer and other illnesses linked to radioactivity.
From 1966 to 1996, France carried out 193 nuclear tests around the paradise islands, including Bora Bora and Tahiti, immortalised by Paul Gauguin. Images of a mushroom cloud over the Moruroa atoll, one of two used as test sites along with Fangataufa, provoked international protests.
Charles De Gaulle and subsequent presidents had thanked French Polynesians for their role in assuring the grandeur of France by allowing it to conduct the tests.
But in the parliamentary bill, France acknowledges that the islands were “called upon” – effectively strong-armed – into accepting the tests for the purposes of “building (its) nuclear deterrent and national defence”.
It also stipulates that the French state will “ensure the maintenance and surveillance of the sites concerned” and “support the economic and structural reconversion of French Polynesia following the cessation of nuclear tests”.