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Algeria’s radioactive legacy from France’s nuclear bomb tests

Algeria: 60 years on, French nuclear tests leave bitter fallout, Author Elizabeth Bryant (Paris)

Decades after the first French nuclear test in Algeria, thousands of victims are still waiting for compensation from the government. Why is France dragging its feet over the issue?

Jean-Claude Hervieux still remembers joining a crowd of soldiers and high-level officials in Algeria’s Sahara desert to witness one of France’s first nuclear tests. Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Instead of being contained underground, radioactive dust and rock escaped into the atmosphere. Everyone ran, including two French ministers. At military barracks, the group showered and had their radiation levels checked as a crude means of decontamination. “You don’t see nude ministers very often,” Hervieux chuckled.

But as France marks the 60th anniversary of its first nuclear test — near Algeria’s border with Mauritania, on February 13, 1960 — there is not much to laugh about. Critics have long claimed more than three decades of nuclear testing may have left many victims, first in Algeria and later in French Polynesia, where the bulk of testing took place.

But so far, only hundreds have been compensated, including just one Algerian. And as key nuclear testing anniversaries tick by, the unresolved fallout of the nuclear explosions has also fed into longstanding tensions between Paris and its former colony.

It is part of the whole issue of decolonization, and of Algerians asking for French recognition of crimes committed” as a colonial power, said Brahim Oumansour, North African analyst for the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations. For France, he added, doing so might mean “financial compensations in the millions of euros.”

Such issues are off the French government’s current public radar. A major nuclear policy speech last week by President Emmanuel Macron made no mention of them. France’s compensation commission says it has responded to claims that meet criteria set out by law.

The French Defense Ministry and Algerian authorities did not respond to questions about the tests.

A former electrician, Hervieux spent a decade working on the French nuclear tests, first in Algeria and later in French Polynesia. The botched Beryl explosion he witnessed in May 1962 took place two months after Algeria’s independence from France. The desert testing would continue for another four years, thanks to an agreement Paris secured with Algiers. “The showers cleaned our bodies and clothes,” Hervieux said of the Beryl incident, “but not what we breathed in or swallowed.”

Hervieux asked French authorities for the results of his radiation tests. They were bizarre, he said. One claimed to have screened him when he was on vacation; another named his father. He was told yet another had been destroyed on grounds it was contaminated.

Buried everything

Altogether, Paris exploded more than 200 nuclear devices. Most were in remote atolls of French Polynesia, but the first 17 took place in Algeria’s desert. In 1996, French President President Jacques Chirac called a halt to the testing.

When we left Algeria, we dug large holes and we buried everything,” said Hervieux, now 80, of France’s departure from the desert sites, in 1966.

He later joined AVEN, a pressure group for victims of French nuclear tests, although he says he remains healthy.

While he did not witness ill effects in Algeria, Hervieux describes visiting a village in French Polynesia where high radiation levels had been detected. “A local teacher said children were sick and vomiting,” he recalled. “Mothers were asking why their children’s hair was falling out.”

In Algeria, testing sites are still contaminated, activists say, many fenced off by only barbed wire, at best. “I saw radiation levels emitted from minerals, rocks vitrified by the bombs’ heat, which are colossal,” said retired French physicist Roland Desbordes, who has visited the sites. “These aren’t sites buried in the corner of the desert — they’re frequently visited by Algerian nomads,” who recuperate copper and other metals from the detritus.

Indelible scar?

The former president and now spokesman for CRIIRAD, an independent French research group on atomic safety, Desbordes claims the French army has key classified information about the testing it will not open to public scrutiny, including about the health and environmental effects of the explosions. But he believes Algerian authorities also bear some blame.

Each anniversary they talk about how these nuclear tests were not good,” he said, “but it’s also up to them to close off the sites to ensure nobody can access them.”

Reports, including a pair of decade-old documentaries by Algerian reporter Larbi Benchiha, suggest the testing left an indelible scar on local communities. Unaware of the danger, they collected once-buried scrap metal uncovered by desert winds, and turned them into jewelry and kitchen utensils.

Altogether, between 27,000 to 60,000 people from communities surrounding the test sites were affected, according to one Al Jazeera report, citing differing French and Algerian estimates.

But out of more than 1,600 claims filed under a decade-old French compensation law that finally acknowledged health problems from the tests, only 51 have come from Algeria, according to France’s nuclear compensation commission, CIVEN. A separate Supreme Court ruling recently reinstated two extra compensation claims from French Polynesia.

Among other criteria, the 2010 law requires proof of a minimum level of exposure to weapons tests, and offers a list of 23 types of cancers that qualify for compensation.

“There are very few demands and we can only judge those we receive,” said CIVEN Director Ludovic Gerin, who added the Algerian claims didn’t meet compensation criteria.

“We can’t actively search for victims,” he added, “so we’re a bit blocked.”

February 15, 2020 Posted by | AFRICA, France, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania oppose energy imports from a Belarusian nuclear power plant

February 15, 2020 Posted by | Belarus, opposition to nuclear, politics international | Leave a comment

#WETOOARE PROTESTERS   FREE JULIAN ASSANGE are a group of mothers, fathers, teachers and students from all over the world, and we are extremely worried about the health condition, as well as the violations of the most basic human rights, of journalist and editor Julian Assange.

The award-winning journalist, in fact, has been held for months in isolation in the maximum security of Belmarsh Prison waiting for extradition to the United States where, confirmed by United Nations experts, it will be difficult for him to have a fair trial and where he risks up to 175 years in prison or even the death penalty.

The motive for the indictment was made mainly by his having published military documents confirming corruption and atrocious war crimes; in particular his website Wikileaks documents show how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have massacred millions of people were created by governments for economic interests and for the exploitation of resources. In these territories the number of terrorists has  increased exponentially. Not only that, Assange unveiled the conditions of Guantanamo prisoners, abuses of every type, and tens of thousands of civilian homicides in Iraq and Afghanistan by the American army, including the assassination of two Reuters journalists all documented in the chilling video, Collateral Murder.

In Julian Assange’s long and frightening persecution, we witnessed seven years of systematic violation of his human rights. The right of citizens to question public interests was also completely ignored. Now, we refuse to participate in a further extension of psychological and physical torture perpetrated against the journalist, as reported by Nils Melzer, the special reporter of the United Nations, who found Assange in a condition of extremely troublesome health. Continue reading

February 15, 2020 Posted by | civil liberties, UK | Leave a comment

Giant iceberg ‘calves’ from Antarctic ice shelf

Shrinking Antarctic ice shelf Pine Island Glacier sheds giant iceberg, ABC News, Digital Story Innovation Team  By Mark Doman 14 Feb 20,  In one of the fastest-changing areas of the Antarctic ice sheet, satellites have captured the formation of a giant, 300-square-kilometre iceberg.

Researchers monitoring satellite imagery of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG), in west Antarctica, first noticed two large rifts forming in the shelf in 2019.

Over the next few months, as the glacier moved out towards the Amundsen Sea, the rifts expanded, eventually leading to the splitting of the iceberg from the glacier on February 9.

Within a day, the iceberg had broken up into smaller pieces.

Only one of the pieces was large enough to be named (B-49) and tracked by the United States National Ice Centre.

It comes just days after a station on the Antarctic Peninsula logged its hottest day on record, registering a temperature of 18.3 degrees Celsius.

The peninsula, which juts out to the north-east of the Pine Island Glacier, is among the fastest-warming regions on the planet. Temperatures there have increased almost 3C over the last 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

Last month, scientists also recorded unusually warm water beneath the Thwaites Glacier, a neighbour to Pine Island.

While the calving of icebergs from shelves such as the Pine Island Glacier is a natural process in the life of a giant glacier, the rate at which this glacier and others in the region have been disintegrating is a cause of concern for scientists.

Previously the ice shelf calved once a decade. By the early 2000s, it started calving once every five years. But since 2013, the glacier has calved five times, according to Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing scientist from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands…….

February 15, 2020 Posted by | ANTARCTICA, climate change, oceans | Leave a comment

189 nuclear and radioactive material incidents in 2019

IAEA reports 189 nuclear and radioactive material incidents in 2019,  By Ilaria Grasso Macola,

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported 189 incidents involving nuclear and radioactive material falling out of regulatory control in 2019, highlighting the nuclear sector’s need to improve its security measures.

According to data submitted to the IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB), out of 189 incidents – reported by 36 countries on a voluntary basis – six involved trafficking, following a downward trend since a peak registered in 2006. Of the remaining 183, there was insufficient information to determine a connection with illegal activities.

IAEA nuclear security division director Raja Adnan said: “The ITDB continues to receive reports of incidents involving potentially weapons-usable nuclear material and high activity sources. Some of these incidents also involved attempts to sell the material across borders.

“These cases highlight the international character of the issue of illicit trafficking and the need for cooperative efforts, such as the ITDB, to counter these threats and challenges we face globally.”Since 1993, a total of 3,686 incidents have been reported to the ITDB, of which 290 involved trafficking and malicious intent; 12 incidents included enriched uranium and two plutonium.

Revealed today during the IAEA ministerial conference, the database is intended to support international cooperation and information sharing between countries,reducing the opportunities for criminal activities.
“As a unique asset in the IAEA’s work to strengthen nuclear security, the ITDB allows us to identify threats and trends so that we can support our member states in improving the implementation of their nuclear security commitments,” added Adnan.

On Monday ministers of 140 countries signed a declaration to enhance global nuclear security and counter the threat of terrorism.

Romanian foreign minister and co-president of the conference Bogdan Aurescu said: “The adoption of a declaration at ministerial level is indicative of the continuous commitment to nuclear security of IAEA member states. It is a concise, politically driven and forward-looking document, adding value to the efforts of strengthening nuclear security worldwide.”

February 15, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, incidents | Leave a comment

Three South Carolina lawmakers Pressed Trump for More Nuclear Funding

February 15, 2020 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

India’s problematic nuclear security

Mapping the Negative Indian Nuclear Security,  By Rabia Javed, 14 Feb 20, Nuclear security has been a key issue for South Asia for several decades since India conducted its nuclear tests in 1974. Indian struggle to attain the maximum number of weapons is still underway since New Delhi conducted its so called peaceful nuclear test.  While living with the kind of achieving the maximum numbers of nuclear weapons by India, the Indian struggle to achieve the maximum is moving steadily forward without great exertion but with abundant support.That is unfortunate.

Overall, the issue mainly revolves around the dangerous bargain that India had with the United States (U.S.) under the civil nuclear cooperation. Countries with major powers has up till now bend the rules for making India’s nuclear program to maintain the cooperation U.S. had with India in nuclear trade. Supporting India was also done with the aim of countering China’s emergence as a super power and controlling its influence. These steps taken in support of India have encouraged New Delhi more in expanding her nuclear weapons program that is already expanding at a higher rate.

By and large, India has on various accounts progressed below par in a comprehensive international reportage, such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Security Index. There have been other many reports that have shown that India’s nuclear security is quite under the negative flex. Ignoring these reports, it still is continuing to expand her nuclear forces.

Traditionally, the growing and bulging danger of insider threats also highlights the importance of personnel reliability programs (PRPs).Interestingly such issues exist in Indian facilities at larger scale.

While turning down pages from the past one can found that, CISF man kills 3 colleagues at Kalpakkam atomic plant.  The incident occurred was though a fresh example which must have considered as India’s serious shortcomings in securing its nuclear facilities. Where later estimates given by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that an estimate of around 110 nuclear bombs are stored in such or same facilities which are being guard by these security forces.

With large number of such incidents that started happening or being covered by mainstream media starting from 1993, there exists another important instance that happened in 2008.

A criminal gang was found in smuggling low grade uranium which can be used in a radiation dispersal device, from India to Nepal. However, in the same year another gang was caught in smuggling such materials that have close connections with an employee at India’s Atomic Minerals Division. Similar lapses had occurred in 2018 where, a uranium smuggling racket was busted by the Kolkata police with one kilogramme of radioactive material which has a market value of INR 30 million ($440,000). All of aforementioned factors highlight the security measure India has up till now in securing its facilities that cannot be ignored.

India is operating a plutonium production reactor, Dhruva, and a uranium enrichment facility that are not subject to IAEA safeguards. India’s build-up of South Asia’s largest military complex of nuclear centrifuges and atomic-research laboratories is somehow threatening efforts related to nuclear security and safety. These facilities will ultimately give India the ability to make more large-yield nuclear arms & hydrogen bombs. The international task force on the prevention of nuclear terrorism is of the view that the possibility of nuclear terrorism is increasing keeping in mind the rapid nuclear development by India. Whereas, U.S. officials and experts are of the view that India’s nuclear explosive materials are vulnerable to theft.

Amusingly, in India, nuclear facilities are guarded by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and CISF guard admitted that security at the installations needs more enhancements. Mysterious deaths of Indian nuclear scientists is a matter of concern as some were reported suicide and some were murdered. The possibility of nuclear secrecy gets out in the hands of terrorists cannot be ignored.

Such risks stemmed in part from India’s culture of widespread corruption. India has refused and rebuffed repeated offers of U.S. help in countering such issue and alignments. The U.S. president’s coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction from 2009 to 2013, Gary Samore, stated that:

We kept offering to create a joint security project [with India] consisting of assistance of any and every kind. And every time they would say, to my face, that this was a wonderful idea and they should grasp the opportunity. And then, when they returned to India, we would never hear about it again.”

India has a dangerous history of unsafeguarded sensitive facilities, where exist larger insider threats of nuclear bomb being stolen by insiders with grievances, ill motives, or in the worst case, connections to terrorists.

At the bottom of this entire debate is a disturbing fact concerning how a country can be trusted with uranium and nuclear deals with over dozens of countries ignoring its security issues related to nuclear safety. What might change India’s calculation that more deals and weapons would not equates to more security? The safest route to reduce nuclear dangers on the subcontinent is through concerted efforts to improve relations. A nuclear arsenal built by proliferation, as India did in 1974, is inherently unstable.


February 15, 2020 Posted by | India, safety | Leave a comment

Rolls Royce plans small nuclear reactors near Snowdonia National Park in Wales.

February 15, 2020 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK | Leave a comment

Few permanent jobs in small modular nuclear reactors?

In Cumbria 12th Feb 2020, Plans to develop unique small nuclear reactors in Cumbria by Rolls-Royce should not be seen as a “saviour of the county”, one of its major rivals said.

in-Cumbria exclusively revealed in November that a consortium, led by
the engineering giant, was focusing its efforts on efforts on developing
its emerging Small Modular Reactors at existing nuclear licensed sites –
with Cumbria and Wales its top targets.

But John Coughlan, chief executive of TSP Engineering, based in Workington, said he was concerned that people would think the plans would prompt people to think thousands of jobs would be created. TSP Engineering is also developing its own version of the technology, and while Mr Coughlan acknowledged that they were rivals and that was a factor in him speaking out, he was also passionate about the local community. He said:

“Make no mistake. When Rolls-Royce talk about developing their reactors in Cumbria, they are talking about a construction site. “If they get the go-ahead for Cumbria, the reactors will be shipped in from elsewhere and built on the site. So you are probably looking at a large number of short-term construction jobs – say 1,000 – then only about 60 to 100 people with a permanent position there.

February 15, 2020 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK | Leave a comment