West Africa: a polygon for numerous nuclear bomb tests performed by France

France has a long a complicated history of relationship with its former colonies.

A history tainted by numerous historical traumas that continue to define the current state of affairs.

Emmanuel Macron tried to make certain steps towards the recognition and retribution of the French wrongdoings in Africa, starting with describing colonization as a “crime against humanity”.

Political analysts however, see this move as aimed at Macron’s French electoral base primarily, not at the delivering the long-awaited justice to the former colonies.

One of the darkest pages of French presence in Africa undoubtfully is the series of nuclear test, that took place in Algeria in the 1960s. Now, more than 60 years later the aftermath of these test still haunts Algeria and the neighboring countries, especially Mali and Niger.

It all started on 13 February 1960, at the Saharan Military Experiments Centre near Reggane: the first French nuclear test that went under the codename Gerboise Bleue.

Gerboise Bleue was the largest first test bomb up to that date: three time more powerful than the notorious Fat Man, a bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.

Naturally the Ministry of the Armed Forces of France commenting on the fallout of these test would keep reassuring that the radioactive effects on humans are “weak”, and “well below annual doses”. However, the actual documentation on the all Gerboise tests remains heavily classified by the French government.

Little as we know about the scale of the fallout of the first Gerboise and the further test, it has been established that the personnel on site did not receive the proper protection during the procedure.

Moreover, some French ex-military officers have come forward with stories of being used as test subjects to study the effects of nuclear radiation on humans.

Thus the indirect evidence is pointing out the fact that nothing was done to protect those around the site, including unsuspecting local population .

Unlike the first attempt, the next test, Gerboise Blanche, was not aerial, as the French knew that the usual test site would have been too contaminated for the next tests. This is a clear evidence that even back in the 1960x the French government already knew that the site was dangerous.

In 2005, the Algerian government asked for a study to assess the radioactivity of former nuclear testing sites. The International Atomic Energy Agency published the report suggesting that the fallouts of Gerboise Blanche expanded south-west. Nevertheless, the tests did not stop: three further atmospheric tests were carried out from 1960 to 1961.

This was high time to stop the tests, that were poisoning the environment for years and years to come, but Paris went on with the In Ekker series. Béryl, one of the 13 underground operations of the In Ekker series, was four times more powerful than Hiroshima.

It was planned to be tested in an underground shaft but the shaft was ill-sealed and improper sealing of the shaft, radioactive rock and dust were released into the atmosphere. According to the official information the personnel on site was exposed to lower levels of radiation, estimated at about 50 mSv, when the radioactive cloud produced by the blast passed over the command post.

Radioactive waste was voluntarily left on sites by the French, when they were leaving Sahara, exposing the populations to hazardous material for human life and the environment.

As French military kept the sites of nuclear sites a secret, scraps of contaminated bases and equipment is still posing threat to the local population who would traditionally go to the area to recover scrap metal from the blast for use in their homes.

Modern Algeria campaigns for the recognition of the Paris’ wrongdoing of the 60s and claims that France should decontaminate the nuclear test sites, active between 1960 and 1966, in the Algerian Sahara. Other neighboring states, like Mali, Niger and Ghana join the reasonable demands.

An association championing for the rights of veterans of nuclear tests (AVEN) deposed a complaint against French military and the first invalidity pension was granted to a veteran of the Sahara tests in 2003. Nevertheless, this was just one case and it did not change the life of the victims of the nuclear test in Algeria and neighboring countries.

The Morin law, which is meant to compensate those with health problems resulting from exposure to the nuclear tests, recognizes only a small list of illnesses and strictly requires claimants to show they were living near the tests when they took place.

It makes is almost impossible for the affected Algerians to prove that they are to be compensated due to traditionally nomadic lifestyle and few formal contacts with the French.

An Algerian group human rights group has estimated there were up to 60,000 still living victims of ill effects from the 1960–66 testing there, while the French government had given an estimate of just 500.

President Macron parades his promises of recognition and retribution for the former French colonies, but 60 years have passed since the nuclear test and people of Algeria, Mali and other countries are still in danger, while the French authorities has once again evaded all accountability for what they are directly responsible for.

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