"MORUROA AND US"

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This summary is issued jointly by Hiti Tau; French Polynesia; Evangelical Church of French Polynesia); World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland; Documentation and Research Center on Peace and Conflicts, Lyon, France; European Centre for Studies, Information and Education on Pacific Issues, Zeist, The Netherlands.

"Moruroa and Us" is the final report about the experiences of the Polynesian test-site workers and islanders who lived in the vicinity of Moruroa and Fangataufa.

It is the first time in the history of the French nuclear tests in Polynesia that the experiences, anxieties, and concerns of those Polynesians who were directly involved have been documented on a large scale.

"MORUROA AND US"

INTRODUCTION

A team of the Polynesian NGO Hiti Tau, the Église Évangélique de Polynesie Française (EEPF) and two Dutch sociologists from the Agricultural University of Wageningen (Pieter de Vries and Han Seur) in 1996 conducted research on the effects of the French nuclear tests on the health and well-being of former test-site workers and islanders living in the vicinity of Moruroa and Fangataufa (the sites where the tests were carried out).

It is the first time since the beginning of the nuclear tests in 1966 that the Polynesian former test workers have been the subjects of an independent inquiry. It is not officially known how many Polynesians worked for the French nuclear testing program. Estimates run between 10,000 and 15,000.

On the basis of a representative survey conducted among 737 former test site employees, working and living conditions at the test sites could be documented. Questions were also asked about what involvement in "le nucleaire" had meant for them, for their families and their communities.

The sociological research comprised two phases. For six weeks, from June to August 1996, the qualitative phase was implemented. During this period the research team was trained and a series of in-depth interviews with former test-site workers, with governmental and non-governmental institutions (such as the labor unions), and with political parties took place.

In addition, in July 1996 a visit was made to Mangareva, located at 400 kilometers from the test-sites. Based on this material and a literature study a questionnaire was elaborated for a large-scale survey. This survey was conducted during October to November 1996. Due to logistic limitations it was not possible to conduct the survey in the Gambier Islands and Tuamotu atolls (located close to the test-sites). However, a qualitative case study of the Gambier Islands is included in the report.

In French Polynesia former workers have not yet had the possibility to make their experiences and doubts known, something which together with the lack of basic information about the consequences of the nuclear tests has caused feelings of anguish, fear and powerlessness.

Furthermore, numerous workers and inhabitants of outlying islands have fears about their health situation and attribute ailments (such as the increase in cases of cancer, of miscarriages, etc.) to nuclear testing. The purpose of this research was to document and quantify the anxieties and uncertainties of Polynesians concerning nuclear testing, giving special emphasis to their health situation. Given the lack of reliable medical and epidemiological statistics concerning the health situation of former test site workers, and others who were exposed to the risks of testing, a choice was made for a sociological approach.

It has been possible, on the basis of a detailed description of working and life conditions on the test sites, and on the basis of qualitative research in the Gambier islands, to make a sound assessment of the types of follow-up activities that are imperative for allaying current fears and anxieties by the population. Such follow-up activities include the provision of adequate health care services and legal assistance, and the commissioning of further research in order to investigate a number of changes and incidents (such as the widespread occurrence of ciguatoxic poisoning; the sudden increase in miscarriages, stillbirths, cancer and other diseases) that have not been accounted for by the French experts.

Also recommendations are made as to the kind of organization that should be set up in order to address the issues that arise in this report.

WORK AND LIVING CONDITIONS AT THE TEST-SITES

A large majority of the Polynesians who worked at the test-sites worked there for more than two years (73 percent). One third (33 percent) worked for more than ten years at the sites. The main motivation for Polynesians to work at the test-sites was to earn money. Indeed salaries were good and topped up by a wide range of premiums. There were premiums for work, premiums for being away from home, dust-premiums, an "end of campaign" premium, etc.

Life at the sites was for a very large majority of the Polynesian workers characterized as being interesting, varied or exiting and only a minority (14 percent) described their work as being dangerous. The general work conditions were not at all experienced as bad.

Certainly many Polynesians found life at the sites at times difficult as they missed their families and their communities. There were also disadvantages such as the prohibition to eat fresh fish where it was so abundant or to drink fresh coconut water. Work pressure was high and routine was only interrupted by the uncanny experience of the tests, which were announced only shortly before they took place.

Working at a nuclear site with complex regulations but few explanations about the scope and nature of risks, put many employees in an uncomfortable position. They were subjected to a complex system of instruction on the test sites, comprising a large array of rules and regulations, which made them dependent on decisions made within an official military system.

At the same time there was a degree of inconsistency in the enforcement of these regulations, for example the demarcation of contaminated and safe areas could suddenly change, some workers were asked to carry out tasks in such areas with what some considered to be inadequate protection, while others were strictly forbidden to enter them.

When asked whether during their stay at the CEP sites workers had spent time in possibly contaminated areas, 49 percent answered yes, 41 percent stated they had worked in possibly contaminated zones. This is a high percentage because most employees who worked in possibly contaminated zones referred to the atmospheric era (the period between 1966 and 1974). Among the employees who worked in possibly contaminated zones 65 percent explained that they often worked in such zones. Almost 70 percent of them stated they had to wear protective clothing.

A majority (54 percent) of employees who worked in possibly contaminated zones share the opinion that at times they had to carry out certain tasks against their will. This percentage is much lower among workers who never had to enter contaminated areas to carry out work (37 percent).

When asked what type of risk they believe they were exposed to, approximately 21 percent of all employees stated that at times they were exposed to radioactivity or contamination. Among those who worked in possibly contaminated zones this figure is significantly higher (38 percent).

Many regulations were often inconsistent and tended to change in time. For example the consumption of fish was forbidden during certain periods. Later, fishing was allowed but not everywhere. It was allowed in the living area but not in the working area, thus lending credence to the rumors that the sea could also be contaminated.

Despite these regulations many test-site workers were tempted to fish and consume the catch (55 percent). The main motive for this was the desire to complement the diet on the test-sites with fresh fish. As some indicated: "Of course we went fishing, we are Maohi."

Another inconsistency was the prohibition during the period of atmospheric tests to drink the water of the coconut, suggesting that the soil could be contaminated by radioactivity. Also the coconuts were removed from the trees, allegedly to prevent falling coconuts from causing accidents. Such decisions were certainly not very convincing.

HEALTH

One of the main anxieties of the former test-site workers concerns their health and the health of their off springs. Although the French authorities have always presented the test-sites as a scientific laboratory, research on the long-term effects of the nuclear testing program on the health of the test-site workers was not contemplated.

From the answers given by the former test-site workers it can be concluded that the French authorities did not even bother to collect relevant data on this subject. Although almost all employees (94 percent) had a medical examination before they arrived at the sites, and 65 percent of them were also examined while working for the CEP, only 48.5 percent were examined at the end of their stay at the sites.

The nature of the activity at the test-sites is itself a reason for establishing a long term survey on the health situation of the test-site workers. Moreover, as shown above, there has been inconsistency in the implementation of the safety rules and regulations.

Not only at the test-sites do the regulations raise questions. One of the most alarming outcomes of the survey is the discovery that 10 percent of the workers were under the age of 18 at the time of recruitment and 6 percent were even children under 16 years of age.

Many former test-site workers complained about the health-system. There is no transparency, questions whether a certain disease can be related to activities at the test-sites are often ignored or not taken seriously. Generally speaking there is no confidence in the current health-system, expressed by that fact that 91.3 percent of the workers would like that an independent medical inquiry to be carried out.

INCIDENTS

The inquiry reveals a number of specific cases of individuals who were exposed to the risks of radioactive contamination with dramatic consequences. Some of them were former workers but there were others who were exposed to risks without knowing it. The following cases have been found:

All these people had one thing in common: that after becoming ill or learning about deeply disturbing events they had to face a wall of disbelief and disinterest on the part of French medical experts and some were subject to intimidation by the authorities.

TO FORGET OR NOT TO FORGET

When former workers were asked whether they considered it important to continue with the discussion about the possible consequences of nuclear testing on the health and well-being of Polynesian families and society at large, or whether the topic should be laid to rest, now that the tests are over, 83 percent of the respondents answered that it was important to continue with the discussions. An even higher percentage (91.3 percent) answered that further epidemiological research should be undertaken about the consequences of nuclear testing on the health of the population. Not surprisingly, especially those workers who had worked in contaminated zones emphasized the need for in-depth medical and epidemiological research.

A first step in the process leading towards better and more open communication would be the adoption by the French authorities of a tragedy which takes former employees and their anxieties seriously.

Lifting the veil of secrecy, demystifying Moruroa, also implies carrying out independent medical and epidemiological research among former employees and their families as well as comparative cancer research in Polynesia and the surrounding region.

Considering the overall costs of the nuclear program, its impact upon Polynesian society, the experiences gained elsewhere, for instance with the American testing program in Nevada and the Marshall Islands, it is astonishing that during the last 30 years apparently no measures were taken and data collected to prepare such investigation.

Yet, coming to terms with the nuclear era requires an active role by the Polynesians themselves. Attempts to address the doubts, the anxieties and all the questions which are still waiting for an answer should not result in a process whereby employees and other Polynesians are transformed, or transform themselves, from ignorant but active accomplices into passive and helpless victims.

The fears and anxieties of the former test-site workers run parallel with feelings of guilt about the fact of having actively participated, having been accomplices, in the nuclear testing program. Many workers feel that they are to some extent responsible for the possible negative health and ecological consequences of the CEP. It can be said that at present among many former test site workers the feeling prevails that in return for money they have put their own lives and the society at risk, leading to widespread feelings of alienation.

A first step to overcome the existing distrust is that France should face up to its responsibilities and respond to the legitimate queries of Polynesians. A second step in order to heal the wounds left by the nuclear tests would be the setting up of an organization that could fulfill an intermediate function between Polynesians and their authorities.

http://antenna.nl/ecsiep/resource/indexres.html

"Moruroa and Us" is available in French and English versions and will cost 95 French Francs (excluding mailing costs).

The English version of the book can be ordered at: John Doom, World Council of Churches Pacific Desk, P. O. Box 2100, CH 1211, Geneva 2, Switzerland, Fax: 41-22.7880067, E-mail: jtd@wcc-coe.org.

French copies of the research are available from: CDRPC , BP 1027,69201 Lyon cedex.France, Fax: 33-478.36.36.83, E-mail: cdrpc@net.asi.fr

For those groups who would like to order more than 10 books they can obtain the book for 60 FF (excluding mailing-costs) or 50 FF a book if more than 50 books are ordered (excluding mailing costs).

This public article was forwarded by NOBBY, N.BRAumann@tu-bs.de.

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