The French government has denied any cover-up over radiation levels in the Pacific following its nuclear testing in the region, as state-backed discussions took place in Paris recently about the legacy of the explosions, the AFP has reported.
The two-day meeting was called by French President Emmanuel Macron following new allegations that the testing (from 1966 to 1996) caused hidden atmospheric and ground radiation.
“There was no state cover-up,” Genevieve Darrieusseq, junior defence minister, told AFP in a brief comment on the sidelines of the event, where she has ruled out any official apology from France.”
In March, the investigative website Disclose created waves when it said it had analysed declassified French military documents about the nearly 200 tests carried out around French Polynesia.
Working with statistical experts and academics from Princeton University in the US, it concluded that “French authorities have concealed the true impact of nuclear testing on the health of Polynesians for more than 50 years.”
The roundtable discussions were attended by Mr Macron and three French ministers with officials from French Polynesia.
President of French Polynesia Edouard Fritch said Mr Macron promised to open up the military archives about the tests and would also visit Tahiti on July 25.
Only records that could lead to nuclear proliferation are to remain secret.
“We felt that the President had a real desire to turn this painful page for all of us, with the resources that will need to be put in place in the future, so that Polynesians can rebuild the faith that we have always had in France,” Fritch said last Friday.
Some Polynesian politicians as well as anti-nuclear campaigners and historians criticized the event saying they have been blocked from properly investigating by state secrecy laws.
Moetai Brotherson, a supporter of independence who sits in the national parliament representing the archipelago, refused to attend unless France apologised for the tests. His party, the Tavini Huiraatira, was planning to organise a rival event in Tahiti last Friday.
Macron has shown a willingness over the last year to tackle historically taboo issues for France, including its colonial history in Algeria and role in Rwanda in the lead up to the 1994 genocide.
The nuclear tests remain a source of deep resentment and anger in French Polynesia, where they are seen as evidence of colonial or even racist attitudes that disregarded the lives of islanders.
Up until now only 63 French Polynesian, excluding soldiers and contractors, have received compensation for exposure to radiation from the nuclear tests, according to Disclose.
The website said it reassessed the 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 conclusions were different to those of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, whose figures served as the reference for compensation for victims of the tests.
Disclose said radioactive soil deposits on an atoll had been underestimated by more than 40 per cent, while more than 100,000 people might have been contaminated in total.