The French government will next month answer charges it failed to protect its French Polynesian workers from fall-out during 30 years of Pacific nuclear tests.
The industrial relations tribunal in Papeete has found that France must account for the consequences of nuclear testing on the health of people in its Pacific territory.
On April 27, three former workers who today suffer blood cancers from what they say are the effects of French nuclear testing will launch a case before French Polynesia’s industrial relations tribunal. The widows of five workers who have died are also taking action against France. The former workers and widows are each seeking compensation of NZ$358,000 for suffering from fall-out-related illnesses.
The association representing former workers says that for the first time, France will have to take responsibility for the consequences of nuclear testing on the health of the Polynesian people.
Morurua e tatou coordinator John Doom says the court will be flooded with several hundred former workers supporting their colleagues and the widows. Among them will be the new President of French Polynesia, Oscar Temaru, who worked at Moruroa.
New Zealand overseas aid agency Christian World Service has long campaigned for justice for the sick workers. National director Pauline McKay says all New Zealanders should be celebrating with their Pacific neighbours.
“The Pacific nuclear test issue galvanised New Zealanders in opposition to the French tests and in support of the people of Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls who were forced to live in the shadow of nuclear blasts.”
Although France stopped tests in 1996 after 30 years of international pressure, the health and environmental consequences were disastrous, Doom says. French Polynesian women have the highest rate of thyroid cancer in the world, and Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls will remain barren and contaminated for years.
Last July, France issued a decree closing access to nuclear archives.
Doom said the April 27 trial gave hope to all victims of French nuclear testing, including those in the Sahara desert of Algeria. “This trial must have repercussions at national and international level: victims of nuclear testing around the world must know that the nuclear powers will not remain immune from punishment.”
“The widows of Moruroa are ready to fight. This lawsuit will be a real test for French justice,” Doom said.