ALGIERS, 8 February 2021 – The Algerian government has demanded that France should clean up the radioactive contamination left behind when France conducted nuclear tests in southern Algeria decades ago.
Algiers is also demanding of Paris (Algeria’s former colonial power to pay compensation to victims of the nuclear tests in addition to decontaminating the sites.
“France has to assume its historical responsibilities and decontaminate the sites where conducted nuclear tests in the 1960s,” General Bouzid Boufrioua told the Algerian army magazine, El Djeich.
The very first of France’s nuclear tests in Algeria’s Sahara Desert close to the border with Mauritania was conducted on 13 February 1960 under the code name “Gerboise Bleue” (Blue Desert Rat).
Algerian officials say the day marked the beginning of a series of four atmospheric nuclear tests at the Reganne Oasis, in the Sahara Desert of Algeria.
France was engaged in over three decades of nuclear tests, 17 of them in Algeria’s Sahara Desert and experts have estimated that no fewer than 26 African countries were impacted by French nuclear tests in the Sahara Desert.
French soldiers and high-level French officials, including two ministers who were present, told of their shock when the radioactive dust – which was supposed to stay underground during the test – escaped into the atmosphere, forcing them to flee in panic.
Without resources to decontaminate themselves out in the desert, the eyewitnesses told of the soldiers and two French ministers running for cover and taking long, repeated showers as well as nervously checking and re-checking their radiation levels.
Several of the French nuclear tests were conducted after 1968, in violation of the United Nations-backed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into effect in 1968.
“The ‘polluter pays’ principle recognized by the international community requires the nuclear powers to right their historical wrongs,” Gen. Boufrioua added.
According to the magazine, the nuclear tests by the French included four explosions above ground in the locality of Reggane and 13 underground explosions in the region of Ekker.
The general added that France has made the crime worse by refusing to provide maps showing where they buried nuclear waste in the Algerian desert.
Scientists believe that the tests left many victims in Algeria but also in French Polynesia, where most of the testing took place.
France has compensated a few hundred victims, including only one Algerian, as of 2020, but the bulk of victims have never received compensation of any kind.
The French government had not yet reacted Monday to the demands formulated by their Algerian counterpart.
Africa: A Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone
Following up on a 1961 recommendation by the United Nations General Assembly, the Organization of African Union (OAU known today as the African Union) issued a Declaration in 1964 which finally led in April 1991 to recognition of Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ).
The final Treaty text was completed at meetings in Johannesburg and Pelindaba, South Africa, respectively in May and June 1995.
The Africa Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (ANWFZ), also known as the Treaty of Pelindaba, was signed on 11 April 1996 in Cairo, Egypt, by 47 of Africa’s 53 countries at the time.
All nuclear-weapon states, except for Russia, also signed the protocols of the Treaty at the same time, which demanded clarification on the status of the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, controlled by the United Kingdom and formerly used as a base for nuclear weapons by the United States.
Parties to the Treaty of Pelindaba commit not to conduct research on, develop, manufacture, stockpile or otherwise acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear explosive device by any means anywhere.
They also commit not to seek or receive any assistance in the research on, development, manufacture, stockpiling or acquisition, or possession of any nuclear explosive device; and not to take any action to assist or encourage the research on, development, manufacture, stockpiling or acquisition, or possession of any nuclear explosive device.
State Parties also undertake to prohibit, in their territory, the stationing of any nuclear explosive device.