Man-made disasters at the Mururoa atoll

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Through monitoring from Google Earth, Mururoa (or Moruroa), located in French Polynesia in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, about 1,125 km southeast of Tahiti can be seen half blurred. The atoll possessed strange form where it had half of its censored area.

Mururoa is home to beautiful waters and looks like a small tropical paradise. It is a coral atoll on top of volcanic basalt, 28 km long and 11 km wide, with a reef rim not exceeding 15 km2 in surface area. It falls into the open-atoll type with a large natural pass on its leeward side allowing the passage of large boats. Its volcanic basement has originated from the Pitcairn hotspot at present operating about 70 km to the south-east of Pitcairn Island.

The French colony of Mururoa Atoll is located in the southeast corner of the Taumotu archipelago in French Polynesia. France began atmospheric nuclear testing in the colony because Algeria had ceased being a nuclear test site option when Algeria gained independence in 1962. Mururoa was graciously conceded to the French state in 1964. Chosen for its isolation and small population, it is now recognized for the many nuclear tests it has undergone. For three decades Mururoa atoll has been the center of nuclear testing by the French government. The atoll, which is part of the Tuamotu Archipelago, was the first to become a nuclear test site in 1966. Some of the nuclear bombs that were tested were even up to 200 times more powerful than the bombs dropped by the United States on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War II.

Foto penampakan Mururoa via screenshot Google Maps

The accurate effects of the French nuclear tests will not be known for years. There is lack of statistical research to assess the risks to the people in the South Pacific. Due to pressure from the European Union and the scientific community, France has conducted several tests to assess the health and environmental risks associated with the nuclear tests. Working with the French government, Jacques Cousteau and his team explored damage to the Mururoa atoll for six days in June 1987. Cousteau, however, had limited time, resources, and access. In February of 1996, France invited the United Nations organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to officially release all nuclear security data. This is a non-governmental scientific study where the results have yet to be seen. In 1994, the IAEA set a resolution for all states to fulfill their international responsibilities to ensure that nuclear testing sites have no detrimental health or environmental impacts. France justified the tests as models to help create computer simulations that would eradicate future testing. There have been 41 atmospheric tests and 138 underground tests from 1966 to 1992. .The results of France resuming nuclear testing have environmental and political implications. This nuclear test did not stop until 1996, after the president of France at that time, Jacques Chirac, closed the test facility.

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France’s nuclear testing in Mururoa has inflicted long-term environmental damage to the geographical structuring of the atoll. Radiation has spread into the fissures of the atoll. A French map from 1980 shows that years of nuclear testing have cracked the atoll. Several scientists have concluded that previous nuclear testing caused fissuring in by destroying the coral and the altering land plates. The long-term effects increase the risk of landslides and tsunami, seismic tidal waves. Future shocks from underground explosions could induce a tsunami that could submerge all of Polynesia. Radioactive leaks also increase the risks to human life. Tests conducted on survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki show that amounts registered at 500 millisievert (mS) can cause cancer and birth defects. Military personnel and civilians estimated to have had direct contact with residual radioactive materials from the tests would have potential health impacts such as various cancers. But according to new research published by the investigative journalism newsroom Disclose, suggest that the radiation levels caused by the tests were far greater than officially acknowledged. The study also found that around 110,000 people – nearly the entire population of the islands at the time – had been exposed to radiation.

The Ocean along with the land and the wildlife in the surrounding area of Mururoa Atoll has also been directly affected by the above-ground and underground nuclear testing throughout the years. Surrounding islands and countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and Japan have been exposed to radioactivity indirectly. The amount, however, is minimal and the results of significant damage to aquatic life are inconclusive. There is coral damage from the impact nuclear explosions and possible damage to the plankton and fish in the sea. Furthermore, the radioactive fallout contaminates the coral and plankton, the air when it rains, and the sea through radioactive leaks and little plutonium from past tests gets into the food chain because it can inflict harm on human and aquatic life in the future. The radiation that emanated from the military tests severely damaged the flora and fauna of the place, besides the entrance to the island was closed and it was determined to abandon the trials with this type of material. Also, the original population of the place known as Tahiti suffers to this day as the consequences of nuclear tests. The area is currently under the protection of the armed forces of France and it is recommended not to attempt to attend the island because it could be fatal.

For  more  than  forty  years,  the  French  government remained secretive about the testing, allowing researchers minimal or no access to either the data it collected or the atolls where the  testing  took  place. Even to this day, all information about exposure levels is protected by the French military. But recently, the full extent of the fallout has slowly begun to come to light; a complaint had been filed against France for ‘crimes against humanity’ in the International Criminal Court on behalf of “all the people who died from the consequences of nuclear colonialism.” The nuclear testing on Mururoa is a reminder to the rest of the world of outdated colonial control over territories overseas. Despite France’s judgment that this was the safest way to test nuclear bombs, the native Pacific Islanders disagreed. They took it upon themselves to speak out to protect their home land and waters.

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