Old Pacific nuclear fears back

27.04.2011: Text von Michael Field

While the world watches Tokyo’s nuclear crisis, the South Pacific has its own worries amidst concern that a big part of Mururoa Atoll is nearing collapse and will spill large amounts of radioactive plutonium into the ocean.

Were it to collapse the prevailing currents would carry the radiation west toward the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

Part of French Polynesia, 4700 kilometres northeast of Auckland, Mururoa was used by the French for 41 atmospheric nuclear tests between 1966 and 1974.

They were only stopped after New Zealand sent two warships to protest and took France to the International Court of Justice.

French insistence on testing was a key reason New Zealand passed its Nuclear Free Zone Act in 1987

France went underground, holding 147 underground tests were then conducted at Mururoa and neighbouring Fangataufa until all testing stopped in 1996.

A 1979 test caused part of the atoll to collapse at the time, flooding the island.

Mururoa has been left with large radioactive caverns which are not currently believed to be open to the ocean.

The latest fears came after French Polynesia President Gaston Tong Sang received a report written by the French Defence Ministry’s nuclear safety expert, Marcel Jurien de la Graviere, who for the last decade has argued that the nuclear tests were safe.

However Tong Sang says he now had a report from de la Graviere that says Mururoa may collapse, sending a 20-metre wave over Tureia Atoll, 115 kilometres away and exposing its 200 people to radiation levels 300 times higher than those of France.

The report also says radioactive material may be spilt into the Pacific. De la Graviere says part of the reef cliff was facing collapse.

Tong Sang last week wrote to President Nicholas Sarkozy asking for experts to immediately asses the risk and come up with solutions.

“It should be emphasised that there is a major risk for radioactive fallout and this would result in a disaster for French Polynesia and the South Pacific islands,” Tong Sang says.

The report had created “a storm of indignation”, disquiet, fear and anger in the territory.

20 March 2011, Copyright: Michael Field, michaelfield.org/Mururoa.htm