Chinese Hibakusha Activist Addresses French Senators

Chinese Nuclear Tests: A voice for thousands of victims invited to the French Senate
January 21, 2014
TRANSLATION by Dennis Riches, 2014/01/22
Dominique Leglu, «Essais Nucléaires Chinois: les milliers de morts s'invitent au Sénat français. » Le Nouvel Observateur (blogs), 2014/01/21.

“In 1973, I was just an elementary school student, stunned to see around me and my classmates a glowing powder, as if earth was falling from the sky onto our heads. When I asked the teacher what it was, she told us there had been a storm on Saturn, and that this was the effect.”
The man who spoke these words became a doctor, and he does not hesitate to say now that the dust was radioactive fallout on the city of Urumchi, coming after one of the Chinese nuclear tests at Xinjiang (there were 23 atmospheric tests and 23 underground tests in China.) He doesn’t hesitate to state that nuclear test fallout led to a 35% increase in the rate of cancer in this province in Western China of 20 million inhabitants, compared to the rate in Henan Province (100 million inhabitants) in Central China where there were no tests. He has compiled figures from hospital records, in particular the four main hospitals of Xinjiang.
It is rare in Paris to hear eyewitness testimony about the impact of Chinese nuclear tests on local populations. It is also alarming to hear the witness say that he could not respond to certain questions from the audience because he has been threatened with twenty years in prison if he gives explanations that would be considered as violations of state secrets.
Nonetheless, this Monday, January 20, 2014, forty years after the event described above, this Uighur doctor, Enver Tohti, came to give his testimony in Paris, as he has done in other talks for fifteen years since he first guided British documentary filmmakers (Death on the Silk Road, 1998) to the contaminated zones. At that time, he decided to leave China and reveal this story to the world.
This testimony was given at a quasi-official international symposium, the first of its kind in France, entitled The Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. The event took place in the basement of the Palais de Luxembourg. There were three roundtable sessions (1) organized by two elected representatives. One was Senator Paris Leila Aichi (EELV Party, Europe Ecologie-Les Verts), who opened the event, and the other was a senator from Polynesia, Richard Tuheiava (Socialist Party), who closed the proceedings. The event was organized by two groups: Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND, with 800 members in 80 countries) and l’Observatoire des Armements.
The date of this event was ironic because on this day the new nuclear accord between Iran and six other nations (US, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, and Germany – all except the latter are nuclear powers themselves) came into effect.
Enver Tohti discussed the results of research by Jun Takada, a physician at Sapporo University of Medicine, with whom he has collaborated for several years on research that examines the health effects of Chinese nuclear weapons tests. They call it Project Lop Nor, named after the geological basin where the tests occurred.
Thanks to the theoretical model developed by the Japanese physician, they were able to estimate the fallout pattern of each test. The images of the simulations, shown at the symposium, indicate that at the time of the two-megaton test of June 17, 1967, a fallout pattern oriented southeast to northwest would have drifted close to the large city of Urumchi (today with a population of 2 million), with a dose of about 2 sieverts. Furthermore, this cloud would have hung in the area for many hours or many days. For perspective, keep in mind that the permitted dose for the population in France, above what occurs naturally or in medical treatments, is 1/1000 of a Sievert for an entire year.
Enver Tohti pointed out that, in contrast with Hiroshima where a “black rain, as well as humidity and condensation, did something to disperse radioactive particles into the ground, in Lop Nor it hasn’t rained for thousands of years, and after the tests the dust has continued to blow in the wind.”
Enver Tohti continued by presenting the results of the Japanese researcher which are based on calculations from his earlier work in Kazakhstan (the location of Soviet nuclear tests). They show that there could have been as many as 190,000 deaths from acute radiation syndrome in the neighboring regions. This is an enormous figure, he says, “more than any estimate of damage from tests done by any other nation.”  This statement came as a shock to this Western audience that wasn’t familiar with the first publication of this news in 2009 (3). It is very difficult to verify, given the difficulty of conducting research in the testing sites.
The speaker added that to this figure we must also include a million victims struck in other ways (tumors, birth defects…), and we must consign ourselves to the long-term effects of this radiation on future generations. Will there be genetic malformations, or numerous induced cancers? He insists here that we don’t know how to compare the health effects of nuclear tests, which were done repeatedly over many decades, with those of the “one-time-only” bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also protests against the impossibility of Xinjiang victims receiving medical treatment. “Chemotherapy costs $5,000, while the local population earns an average of $1,000 per year.” Nonetheless, he pointed out that an association of veterans of testing has started to stand up for their rights.
One could say that holding this critical event in an official setting rattled the cages of one of the taboos of French society: discussion of the strategic weapon par excellence, the atomic bomb. This event was held, after all, not in a university, nor in an independent association or foundation, but in La Salle Clemenceau of the Senate. But let’s not kid ourselves. It was only a rattling of the cages. France conducted 210 nuclear tests (4) and it will not be represented at the international conference in Mexico February 13-14, 2014 devoted to the health consequences of nuclear tests. Nor will any of the other nuclear powers be represented. The conference in Mexico follows the first conference of this type which was held in May 2013 in Oslo. In contrast with France, where disarmament and the effects of fallout are not on the political radar, these subjects retain the attention of all countries in Northern Europe, Austria, Switzerland, and the 123 states that signed, in October 2013, a UN resolution on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear arms. Yet in France there is only a stunning silence on these issues. A former Socialist Party defense minister, Paul Quilès, wrote less than a year ago a book (5) which risked the crime of lèse-majesté for its title Stop the Bomb.


(1) First roundtable: The reality of the impact of nuclear weapons. Moderated by Patrick Bouveret, director of l’Observatoire des armements.
Second roundtable: The humanitarian dimension: the path to re-launching debate at the UN on nuclear disarmament. Moderated by Yann Mens, editor in chief of Alternatives Internationales.
Third roundtable: The role and power of European and French Parliamentarians in the processes of control and disarmament of nuclear weapons. Moderated by Jean-Marie Collin, director of PNND for France.

(2) See the two recent works by Bruno Barillot published by l’Observatoire des armements: Nuclear Tests: the Poisoned Heritage (2012) and Victims of French Nuclear Tests: History of a Combat (2010).

(3) Zeeya Merali, “Did China Nuclear Tests Kill Thousands and Doom Future Generations?” Scientific American, 2009.

(4) In the next blog post we’ll cover the session on the French tests conducted in Algeria and Polynesia.

(5) Paul Quiles, Arrêtez la bombe! (Le Cherche Midi, 2013).

Translator's note:

See also Jun Takada's book about Chinese nuclear tests:

Jun Takada, Chinese Nuclear Tests: Disasters Caused by Nuclear Explosions on the Silk Road (Iryokagakusha, 2009).

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