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article imageFallout from France's 1960 atomic bomb tests hit southern Europe

By Anne Sewell     Feb 16, 2014 in Science
Way back on February 13, 1960, France tested its first atomic bomb, "Gerboise Bleue" (Blue Jerboa). Declassified documents released recently show that radiation from the test in the Algerian Sahara desert reached much further than they said at the time.
In fact, the radiation fallout is likely to have reached as far as the southern coast of Spain as well as Sicily and Sardinia in Italy, within just 13 days of the blast.
The French daily newspaper Le Parisien published the military papers on February 14.
Originally the affected zone was said to be restricted to within the Sahara desert in Algeria, but it can be seen from the image below that in reality, it affected northern, eastern and central Africa plus southern Europe.
The map shows clearly how far the radiation had spread by 13 days after the explosion.
"The military recognizes that in some places the safety standards have been widely exceeded: Arak near Tamanrasset, where the water was highly contaminated, but also in the Chadian capital N'Djamena," wrote Le Parisien.
While the levels were described by the military as being "generally very weak" and of no threat beyond the blast area, Bruno Barillot, an expert on atomic bombs, countered, "That's what the army always say."
"Except that the standards of the time were much less stringent than now and that medical advances have since demonstrated that even low doses can trigger, ten, twenty or thirty years later, serious diseases."
The documents also show that dangerous levels of iodine-131 and caesium-137 were discovered in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, along with Arak, near Tamanrasset in southern Algeria. However, it is impossible to tell the exact levels involved.
"Everybody knows today that these radioactive elements cause cancers or cardio-vascular diseases," Barillot said.
While the French defense department says that the documents were revealed by "an independent advisory commission" with no army involvement, Barillot claims that they had been selectively declassified to obscure the real truth.
Reportedly between 1960 and 1961, there were a total of four atomic bomb tests in the Sahara desert before Algeria became independent. There were apparently 13 more tests after independence before they ceased completely in 1966. They reportedly started up the tests again in French Polynesia in 1970.
A lawyer, Fatima Benbraham, is representing about 30 cases of cancer said to have resulted from the tests in Algeria.
"None have received compensation because we don’t have proof that they were in the very limited zone laid down by the law relating to damages," she told RFI.
Around 150,000 people living within the blast zone area are reportedly yet to be compensated.
On top of this, some illnesses suffered by French soldiers have been established to be the result of exposure to radiation from the blasts.
The video above is a short clip of the fireball of France's first nuclear test, "Gerboise Bleue." The weapon was detonated atop a 105 meter tower near Reganne, Algeria. According to the description on the video, the test was a pure fission device with a plutonium core and a one-point initiated implosion system.
Map showing the spread of fallout from France s atomic bomb testing in Algeria.
Map showing the spread of fallout from France's atomic bomb testing in Algeria.
Fair Use
French sources:
Le Parisien
Le Monde
More about France, Atomic bomb, Gerboise Bleue, Radiation, Algeria
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