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Former IAEA Director-General
France Admits Nuclear Coercion in Polynesia
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French President Emmanuel Macron signed a new law July 5 acknowledging that Paris coerced French Polynesia into hosting nuclear testing from 1966 to 1996. Introduced as a revision of a 2004 statute governing Polynesian territorial autonomy, the law states that French Polynesia was made to participate by France in “the construction of its nuclear deterrent and national defense.” Previously, French leaders had simply praised the territory for its role in testing. France is now legally committed to the “economic and structural reconversion” of the area.

Former president of French Polynesia Oscar Temaru attends a 2014 ceremony at a nuclear test victim memorial in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.  A new law has moved France toward recognizing the toll of nuclear testing on Polynesian residents. (Photo: Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images)The law permits the government to compensate Polynesians affected by radiation-induced illness over the course of the tests, but France’s Constitutional Council struck down a provision allocating $100 million annually for remediation on June 27. Expressing frustration with the difficulty of receiving compensation, Polynesian opposition groups have called for the law to be overturned altogether.

A total of 193 nuclear tests were conducted in French Polynesia near the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa, many of which were atmospheric explosions. Declassified documents revealed in 2013 that radioactive contamination was much more extensive than the government had previously admitted.—OWEN LeGRONE