By Mohamed Boukreta
On February 13, 1960 (exactly 61 years ago today), the French conducted their first nuclear test at Reggane in south west Algeria.
These tests continued until 1966, four years after Algeria gained independence from France.
Seventeen nuclear tests were conducted in all at two Algerian locations: both atmospheric and underground.
The French government has not made public any documents about the nuclear tests in Algeria.
In the absence of official documentation about the participation of armed forces, of Algerians and dose and contamination levels, there has been considerable speculation and rumours about all of these subjects.
The one figure about radiation doses was reported by Greenpeace:
“The first underground test, on 1 May 1962, code-named Beryl, was to test the prototype for the AN 11 bomb for the Mirage IVA aircraft. Despite adverse winds and against the advice of the Commission of Nuclear Safety, the explosion went ahead because two VIPs, one from the Ministére des Armees, were present, twelve soldiers were contaminated when radioactive vapour escaped through a fissure in the rock; nine of them received more than 100 rem of radiation.”
According to Reuters news agency, radioactive material is still seeping from the Sahara desert mountain where French scientists conducted nuclear tests in the 1960s, contaminating the soil and poisoning relations between France and Algeria.
Racing to build a bomb that would underpin its status as a major Cold War power, France “chose this barren spot”!!!
More than 60 years later, local people say the tests left a legacy of environmental devastation and health problems, and are demanding that Paris issue an apology and pay compensation.
True to their racist nature, the French refuse to take responsibility. Other people’s lives do not matter.
The issue has become a source of tension between Algeria and France.
Algiers is angry that Paris has not offered a broader apology for what it sees as France’s colonial crimes, and relations have hit a new low because of this very sensitive issue.
Hussein Dakhal, who lives in a village near In Ekker mountain, is now 83.
He still remembers the day (May 1, 1962) when the French conducted a test codenamed "Beryl”.
It went wrong, resulting in radioactive material escaping from inside the mountain.
“I heard the explosion, since then, life has changed for us; unknown diseases and health problems started to emerge,” Dakhal said as he stood near the foot of the mountain, about 2,000 km south of the Algerian capital.
After the war that killed more than one-and-a-half million people, Algeria won independence from France in 1962.
The nationalists that took leadership of the liberation struggle, however, accepted the humiliating condition that France would continue to conduct nuclear tests in Algeria until 1966.
The treaty was signed with French President Charles de Gaulle.
French neo-colonialism continued, with a heavy price paid by the Algerians.
According to Algerian data, radiation in some areas near the test sites is 20 times higher than the norm.
“Do not stay more than 10 minutes, it could be dangerous,” one scientist at In Ekker told visitors.
Algerian officials say France is refusing to give them access to archives about the tests, leaving them in the dark about the extent of the threat from radiation and preventing them from taking effective measures.
“The region has been irradiated. We need information about where irradiated stuff has been buried; this is why it is vital to obtain archives from France,” said Roland Desbordes, head of an independent French nuclear watchdog.
“I do not understand why France is against the principle of delivering the archives to Algeria,” he told Reuters.
Not all those who say they were victims of radiation from nuclear testing are Algerians, a French newspaper, citing confidential documents, reported last year.
It said France deliberately exposed its soldiers to the blasts to study the effects on humans.
Paradoxically, the chosen site (Adrar or Touat Region in South West Algeria) by France to proceed with these nuclear tests is not something trivial.
Rather, it was a deliberate act as both Western and Zionist historians did not match the acts of Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdel Krim Al Maghili.
He was a devout and an incomparable XV century Warrior.
An article written by Dr. Abdul Kadhim Al Aboudi, Professor of Nuclear physics at Oran University, published by the Algerian Arabic daily Echourouk Al Youmi dated February 12, 2007, is breath-taking.
Recalling the French nuclear tests in the Touat area on February 13, 1960 (when Algeria was still under French colonialism), and precisely in Reggane, 50 km south of Bouali, Dr.Al Aboudi with irrefutable evidence, considered that the “blue jerboa nuclear operation” was hatched by the Israelis and executed by the French so as to avenge the alleged “Jews-cleanup” by Sidi Al Maghili five centuries ago.
He wondered why the “Land of Touat” was chosen for such nuclear tests as it is not an isolated area, but well settled.
The nuclear tests’ harmful effects upon the people of the region and the environment as a whole are still felt.
No wonder, despite France’s criminal acts, indeed “crimes against humanity”, the noble citizens of the Touat area are relying on a sublime act in the form of thwarting the harmful effects of radioactivity by prayers and salutations upon the beloved Prophet of Islam and his household (peace be upon them).
Such a daily panacea and therapy have indeed born fruit.
Spirituality may have overpowered the criminal acts of French colonialists, it does not absolve the perpetrators of their guilt.
(Mohamed Boukreta is a long-time Algerian social activist and writer)