The humanitarian impact and implications of nuclear test explosions in the Pacific region
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 May 2016
The people of the Pacific region have suffered widespread and persisting radioactive contamination, displacement and transgenerational harm from nuclear test explosions. This paper reviews radiation health effects and the global impacts of nuclear testing, as context for the health and environmental consequences of nuclear test explosions in Australia, the Marshall Islands, the central Pacific and French Polynesia. The resulting humanitarian needs include recognition, accountability, monitoring, care, compensation and remediation. Treaty architecture to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons and provide for their elimination is considered the most promising way to durably end nuclear testing. Evidence of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear tests, and survivor testimony, can contribute towards fulfilling the humanitarian imperative to eradicate nuclear weapons.
- Regional perspectives
- International Review of the Red Cross , Volume 97 , Issue 899: The human cost of nuclear weapons , September 2015 , pp. 775 - 813
- Copyright © icrc 2016
1 Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban-Treaty Organization (CTBTO Preparatory Commission), The United States' Nuclear Testing Programme, available at: www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/the-effects-of-nuclear-testing/the-united-states-nuclear-testing-programme/ (all internet references were accessed in November 2015).
2 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), SIPRI Yearbook 2014, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015, pp. 349–351.
3 The explosive device used for a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE) is the same as for a weapons test, and the adverse effects on health and the environment are the same (see CTBTO Preparatory Commission, Peaceful Nuclear Explosions, available at: www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/history-of-nuclear-testing/peaceful-nuclear-explosions/). In addition, there is no objective way to verify that a nuclear explosion designated as “peaceful” does not have some military purpose. Because PNEs were widely regarded as a “back door” for nuclear weapons, they are prohibited under the CTBT. The best-known case of deceitful use of the designation of PNE is that of India's 1974 explosion. After conducting an explicit series of nuclear weapons test explosions in 1998, India admitted that its 1974 explosion had also been a nuclear weapon test. See Rebecca Johnson, Unfinished Business: The Negotiation of the CTBT and the End of Nuclear Testing, UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), Geneva, 2009, pp. 101, 322.
5 CTBTO Preparatory Commission, Nuclear Testing 1945–Today, available at: https://www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/history-of-nuclear-testing/nuclear-testing-1945-today/.
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9 CTBTO Preparatory Commission, China's Nuclear Testing Programme, available at: www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/the-effects-of-nuclear-testing/chinas-nuclear-testing-programme/.
10 CTBTO Preparatory Commission, The United Kingdom's Nuclear Testing Programme, available at: www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/the-effects-of-nuclear-testing/the-united-kingdomsnuclear-testing-programme/.
11 CTBTO Preparatory Commission, France's Nuclear Testing Programme, available at: https://www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/the-effects-of-nuclear-testing/frances-nuclear-testing-programme/.
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13 Arjun Makhijani, “A Readiness to Harm: The Health Effects of Nuclear Weapons Complexes”, Arms Control Today, 1 July 2005, available at: www.armscontrol.org/act/2005_07-08/Makhijani.
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20 Royal Commission Report, above note 16, p. 15, para. 2.1.25.
24 Richard Gun, Jacqueline Parsons, Philip Ryan, Philip Crouch and Janet Hiller, Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests in Australia, Vol. 2: Mortality and Cancer Incidence, Department of Veterans Affairs, Canberra, 2006, p. xvii.
25 Royal Commission Report, above note 16, Conclusion 97, and Vol. 1, para. 6.4.92, p. 194 and accompanying account pp. 174–194. “Black Mist” refers to a dark cloud of radioactive fallout resulting from the “Totem 1” test on 15 October 1953 which enveloped and irradiated Aboriginal people living in the Wallatina community and neighbouring homesteads. The Royal Commission concluded that the phenomenon had been real, despite earlier denials by various British and Australian officials.
27 Ibid., pp. 319, 323, Conclusions 90, 91, 117, 124–125, 140, 186. For a useful, more concise account, see Peter N. Grabosky, “A Toxic Legacy: British Nuclear Weapons Testing in Australia”, in Peter N. Grabosky, Wayward Governance: Illegality and Its Control in the Public Sector, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 1989.
28 Royal Commission Report, above note 16, Vol. 1, pp. 39–85, especially Table 4.5.1, p. 78.
29 The Royal Commission Report provides extensive documentation of eyewitness accounts from test participants. A number of books also provide detailed eyewitness accounts. Two excellent examples are Frank Walker, Maralinga, Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2014; Roger Cross and Avon Hudson, Beyond Belief. The British Bomb Tests: Australia's Veterans Speak Out, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, 2005.
30 Royal Commission Report, above note 16, “Conclusions and Recommendations”, Conclusion 52, p. 12.
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39 Philip Dorling, “Ten Years after the All-Clear, Maralinga is Still Toxic”, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 November 2011.
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56 Bengt Danielsson, “Poisoned Pacific: The Legacy of French Nuclear Testing”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 46, No. 2, 1990.
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58 Only China conducted atmospheric tests later, until 1980. SIPRI, above note 2, pp. 349–351.
59 Nic Maclellan and Jean Chesneaux, After Moruroa: France in the South Pacific, Ocean Press, Melbourne, 1998, p. 102.
60 Marlise Simons, “Report Says Mitterand Approved Sinking of Greenpeace Ship”, International New York Times, 10 July 2005, available at: www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/world/europe/report-says-mitterrand-approved-sinking-of-greenpeace-ship.html.
61 N. Maclellan and J. Chesneaux, above note 59, p. 215.
62 A detailed review of the French Pacific nuclear tests including eyewitness accounts can be found in Commission d'Enquete sur les Consequences de Essais Nucleaire (CESCEN), Les polynesiens et les essais nucleaires, Deliberation No. 2005-072, Assemblee de la Polynesie Francaise. A useful report compiling eyewitness accounts in English is Pieter de Vries and Han Seur, Moruroa and Us: Polynesians' Experiences during Thirty Years of Nuclear Testing in the French Pacific, Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Paix et les Conflits, Lyon, 1997.
63 A. Robbins, A. Makhijani and K. Yih, above note 49, p. 143; Angelique Chrisafis, “French Nuclear Tests ‘Showered Vast Area of Polynesia with Radioactivity’”, The Guardian, 4 July 2013, available at: www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/03/french-nuclear-tests-polynesia-declassified.
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117 These concerns are documented in detail in a number of submissions by Aboriginal organizations to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, particularly Native Title Representative 10-9-2015, Yankunytjatjara Native Title Aboriginal Corporation 10-8-2015, and Maralinga Tjarutja, Yalata Community Inc 14-08-2015. All are available at: http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/submissions/?search=Submissions.
118 A. Robbins, A. Makhijani and K. Yih, above note 49, pp. 10–15.
119 R. Gun, J. Parsons, P. Ryan, P. Crouch, and J. Hiller, above note 24, p. vi.
120 Documents and presentations from the Oslo Conference are available at: www.regjeringen.no/en/topics/foreign-affairs/humanitarian-efforts/humimpact_2013/id708603/.
121 Documents and presentations from the Vienna Conference are available at: www.bmeia.gv.at/en/european-foreign-policy/disarmament/weapons-of-mass-destruction/nuclear-weapons-and-nuclear-terrorism/vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/.
122 And see, for example, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Ionising Radiation”, available at: www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/ionizing_radiation.html; A. D. Wrixon, above note 116, pp. 161–168.
123 The average global background level of radiation we are all exposed to from inhalation of radon gas produced by the decay of uranium in the Earth's crust, cosmic sources, soil and rocks, and ingestion, is about 3 mSv per year. Acute exposures over 100 mSv produce effects on chromosomes measurable in laboratory testing. Acute symptoms are increasingly likely at acute doses above a few hundred mSv; without intensive medical care, doses around 4 Sv (4000 mSv) will be fatal for many of those exposed. All levels of radiation exposure are associated with increased risks of long-term genetic damage and increases in cancer, proportional to the dose. There is no dose of radiation below which there is no incremental health risk. A chest X-ray typically involves a dose of 0.02 mSv; a CT scan typically involves doses of 3–12 mSv or more. For non-medical exposures, the maximum permitted dose limit recommended by the ICRP and most national radiation protection agencies for any additional non-medical exposures for members of the public is 1 mSv per year; for nuclear industry workers the recommend maximum occupational dose limit is an average of 20 mSv per year.
124 US National Academy of Sciences, Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII, Phase 2, Washington, DC, 2006.
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133 National Academy of Sciences, above note 124, pp. 470–499.
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150 US Department of Justice, above note 15, p. 2.
151 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, UN GA Res. 48/70, 10 September 1996 (not in force).
152 CTBTO Preparatory Commission, Status of Signature and Ratification, available at: www.ctbto.org/the-treaty/status-of-signature-and-ratification/.
153 R. Johnson, above note 3, pp. 179–180, 193–519, 222, 231.
154 Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, 2nd ed., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, 2005, p. 247.
155 Philip Shenon, “France, Despite Wide Protests, Explodes a Nuclear Device”, International New York Times, 6 September 1995.
156 Leonard Weiss, “Flash from the Past: Why an Apparent Israeli Nuclear Test in 1979 Matters Today”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 9 September 2015.
157 See the article by Hans M. Kristensen and Matthew McKinzie, in this issue of the Review.
159 WHO, Effects of Nuclear War on Health and Health Services, 2nd ed., Geneva, 1987, p. 5.
160 Speech given by Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, 8 December 2014, available at: www.bmeia.gv.at/index.php?eID=tx_nawsecuredl&u=0&g=0&t=1455190832&hash=f1f7811a97b8c01733e346530ac7fcc44b61db32&file=fileadmin/user_upload/Zentrale/Aussenpolitik/Abruestung/HINW14/HINW14_Peter_Maurer_speech.pdf.
161 See Gregor Malich, Robin Coupland, Steve Donnelly and Johnny Nehme, “Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) Events: The Humanitarian Response Framework of the International Committee of the Red Cross”, in this issue of the Review.
162 Convention on Cluster Munitions, 2688 UNTS 39, 3 December 2008 (entered into force 1 August 2010).
163 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, 18 September 1997 (entered into force 1 March 1999), available at: www.icrc.org/ihl/INTRO/580.
164 Article 36, “Victim Assistance” in a Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons, January 2015, available at: www.article36.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/victims-nuclear-weapons.pdf.
165 Draft Elements of a Charter of World Nuclear Victims' Rights, World Nuclear Victims Forum, Hiroshima, 21–23 November 2015, available at: www.fwrs.info/topics/2015/341.