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French N-Tests in the Algerian Desert

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special: Environmental Racism and Nuclear Development

(March 28, 1993) Like the US, France too has a less well-known nuclear weapons test site in addition to its Pacific sites. Before going to the Pacific islands of Muroroa and Fangataufa, the French military carried out numerous nuclear tests in the Algerian desert.

Julius Caland

Between February 1960 and April 1961, four atmospheric nuclear devices were tested at a site close to Reggane, without any regard for the local population. The bombs were most often ignited from a tower of approximately 100 meters height and had a yield of up to 70 kilotons. After heavy protests from the neighboring African states, France conducted only sub-surface tests after November 1961 and, according to different sources, tested another 10 to 13 nuclear devices in the Hugger Mountains until 1966. The last French nuclear test in Algeria was conducted at Mouila, south of Reggane. In spite of Algeria gaining independence in 1962, the "Treaty of Evian", which spelled out the terms of independence, allowed France to continue nuclear weapons testing in Algeria until 1966.

A study initiated by the Greens in the European Parliament has shown that many people have died after having recovered metal, abandoned after the departure of the French military. People interviewed spoke of copper cables, up to 40 km long, that were stripped of their plastic coatings before being melted, and then sold in Morocco. The plastic was burnt in the open air. The Touaregs, who were at the time being chased from Mali, were especially involved in this kind of trade, which was carried on at least until 1967.

The French government has not yet released any documents on the tests and their consequences on either the French or Algerians who took part in them, or on the contamination of the test sites themselves and the people in the surrounding area. Nor has the Algerian government pressured them to do so: Algeria is still too dependent on the money that Algerian foreign workers continuously transfer from France to Algeria.

Sources: Silence, Jan. 1993, p.21; World Uranium Hearing Grey Book, 1992, p.75.