300 articles and commentaries that try to convince readers that the answer to this question must be yes. Dismantle all bombs and reactors before the centennial of the Trinity Nuclear Bomb Test on July 16, 1945. Sooner would be better, but since the human race loves centennials, this is one to put in your calendar.
“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
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
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.
First roundtable: The reality of the impact of nuclear weapons. Moderated by
Patrick Bouveret, director of l’Observatoire
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.
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.