“Just Cover Your Eyes” – The Toll Of Decades Of Nuclear Tests In French Polynesia
More than 15 years after the end of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, 720 people afflicted with cancer and other illnesses have sued France for compensation.
PAPEETE - Lucien Faara was a farmer on Tahaa Island, in French Polynesia. In 1968, he left his island for Mururoa atoll, where he hoped for a more stable income than his taro field was yielding. For eight years he worked as a laborer on the sites where the Pacific Experimentation Center (CEP) and the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) held 210 nuclear weapons tests between 1966 and 1996.
Farra died from bronchopulmonary cancer in 2004. Since 2005, his widow has been asking the courts to recognize her husband's sickness and death as a result of radioactive contamination. She brought her case to the compensation committee (Civen) created in 2010 to acknowledge and compensate French nuclear weapons testing victims, to no avail.
She is currently in the Papeete administrative court in Tahiti appealing against the Civen's decision to reject her compensation claim, along with six former workers and their beneficiaries who have suffered the same fate. It is their third and last judicial recourse. Previously, they had also lodged a claim in the Labor Court against the CEA, which they accused of not taking enough anti-contamination security measures.
A cancer epidemic
"I want to forget. But it is very difficult to see my colleagues die," says Robert Voirin, a former Mururoa worker. "They told us to put our hands on our eyes and to turn our backs on the mushroom," he adds. In 1998, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. On May 21, the Labor Court heard testimony on his medical case. The court will rule on July 16. "I'm not expecting much," admits Voirin. "I just want to know if there is a risk the sickness will be passed on to my children."
A civil court found the CEA guilty of causing Lucien Faara's death. That did not stop the atomic commission's lawyer, Franck Dremaux, from asserting that there was no link between the sickness and the nuclear tests- adding that nuclear testing, atoms and nuclear weapons were scary, but that such a controversy had no place in a courtroom.
Out of the 720 civilian and military cases presented to the Civen, only four have obtained compensation, ranging between 16,000 and 60,000 Euros. All of the Polynesian cases were rejected. "They are waiting for us to die one after the other so that there are fewer people to compensate," says a disillusioned Voirin. "It's humiliating," adds Roland Oldham, from Mururoa e Tatou, a defense association created by former workers.
The Civen justified rejecting the cases by qualifying the link between nuclear testing and pathologies as "insignificant."
The Mururoa e Tatou association wants a complete overhaul of the compensation system, and the Polynesian government has asked for a meeting with new French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Bruno Barrillot, who specializes in monitoring the nuclear testing fallout in French Polynesia, hasn't forgotten that new Justice Minister Christiane Taubira had submitted a law on this in 2009, just as Marie-Hélène Aubert, French president François Hollande's advisor had seven years earlier. It should also be noted that Mururoa e Tatou's banner was a gift from the Nantes' municipal council, led by Ayrault. During each hearing, it is unfurled in front of the Papeete court.
Read the article in French in Le Monde.
Photo - Point Zero Canopus