On Friday, the French government denied any cover-up of radiation levels in the Pacific as a result of its nuclear testing in the region, as discussions about the aftermath of the explosions took place in Paris.
A two-day roundtable meeting convened by French President Emmanuel Macron in April began on Thursday, following new allegations that testing between 1966 and 1996 resulted in hidden atmospheric and ground pollution.
“There was no state cover-up,” junior defense minister Genevieve Darrieusseq told reporters on the sidelines of the event, ruling out any official apology from France. In March, the online investigation site Disclose made headlines when it announced that it had analyzed nearly 2,000 pages of French military documents declassified in 2013 about nearly 200 tests conducted in French Polynesia.
Using statistical modeling and assistance from academics and specialists, it concluded that “for more than 50 years, French authorities have concealed the true impact of nuclear testing on the health of Polynesians.”
Polynesian politicians have had a mixed reaction to Macron’s participation in the roundtable discussion, which he attended without making any public comments on Thursday. MP Moetai Brotherson, a supporter of independence who represents the archipelago in the national parliament, has refused to attend unless France apologizes.
His party, the Tavini Huiraatira, has announced that a rival event will be held in Tahiti on July 2.
Despite his previous harsh criticism of France’s “contempt and arrogance,” the head of the region, which includes more than 100 islands, has welcomed the initiative.
“We felt that the president of the republic had a genuine desire to turn this painful page for all of us, with the resources that will be required in the future, so that Polynesians can rebuild the faith that we have always had in France,” Edouard Fritch said.
“It’s a strong signal that he sent,” Fritch added, commenting on Macron’s pledge to the conference that he would travel to Tahiti on July 25.
According to Disclose, only 63 Polynesian civilians, excluding soldiers and contractors, have received compensation for radiation exposure from nuclear tests to date.
According to the website, it used data to reassess pollution on the Gambier Islands, Tureia, and Tahiti following the six nuclear tests considered to be the most contaminating in the history of French tests in the Pacific.
It claimed that its findings were diametrically opposed to those of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), whose figures were used as a guideline for compensating victims of the tests. In one case, Disclose stated that radioactive soil deposits on one atoll were overestimated by more than 40%.
Over three decades, the Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls saw 193 nuclear tests before then-President Jacques Chirac ended the program in the 1990s in response to international pressure to stop the explosions.
During a visit to the region in 2016, former President Francois Hollande acknowledged that the tests had “an impact” on health and the environment and promised to revamp the compensation process. He also praised the islands’ contribution, saying that without the tests, “France would not have nuclear weapons and thus would not have a nuclear deterrent.”
French Polynesia is one of three French territories in the Pacific, with a population of around 300,000 people.