29 May 1998
PR 98/4
EMBARGO: 31 May 1998

Study of Radiological Situation at Atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa

A comprehensive report of the study of the current radiological situation at the Atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa in French Polynesia is being released this week by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The atolls, narrow rims of coral reef jutting a few metres above ocean in the middle of the South Pacific, were the site of nuclear testing from 1966 until 1996, when France ceased such tests.

The Government of France requested the IAEA to undertake the Study in 1995 . The IAEA in turn set up an International Advisory Committee (IAC) of eminent scientists from various countries to supervise the Study independently and objectively. 55 experts external to the IAEA and 18 scientific laboratories from 12 States (plus the IAEA's two laboratories) participated in the assessment. The Study was prospective in nature, i.e. it assessed the present radiological situation after the cessation of testing in the Atolls and the future consequences. The Study did not assess retrospectively the past consequences of the nuclear testing era; nevertheless, it took note and summarized the extensive assessments made by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) at the time of testing.

An Executive Summary of the Study, including its findings, conclusions and recommendations, is being released this week to the South Pacific Forum, a regional organization of 15 South Pacific countries. The Executive Summary will be considered next week by the Board of Governors of the IAEA and by the IAEA General Conference in September. The IAEA is following up with publication of a Main Report of the Study supported by six Technical Reports, comprising a total of nearly 2,000 pages of technical material. A Summary Report is also being published.

The radiological conditions discussed in the Study include several kilograms of residual plutonium in the sediments in the lagoon of each atoll, particles containing plutonium and a small amount of americium on three islets of the Mururoa atoll, where atmospheric safety trials had been conducted, and some elevated levels of caesium-137 in small areas of the Fangataufa atoll. However, the Study found in summary that the radiological significance of these findings was limited. The Study concluded that there will be no radiological health effects which could be either medically diagnosed in an individual or epidemiologically discerned in a group of people and which could be attributable to radiation doses from the residual radioactive material remaining at the atolls. The Study also assessed the implications of the residual radioactivity for the local biota and concluded that they would not be affected.

The Study concluded therefore that neither remedial actions nor continuing environmental monitoring at Mururoa and Fangataufa are needed on radiological protection grounds. The Study suggested nevertheless that an environmental monitoring programme may be useful in assuring the public about the continuing radiological safety of the atolls. The French government plans to continue some environmental monitoring at the atolls and the Study recommended that there could be scientific interest in supplementing this programme by additional monitoring of the underground migration of certain radionuclides.

A scientific conference to discuss the Study's results will be held at IAEA Headquarters in Vienna, 30 June - 3 July 1998.

A team headed by the Chairman of the IAC Dr. E. Gail de Planque is visiting the South Pacific at the moment to brief interested parties on the Study. Briefings are scheduled for Nadi, Fiji Islands, on 2 June, the ITT Sheraton Fiji Resort, Nadi, Denarau Island, and at the Centre Universitaire de Polynesie Francaise, Fa'a Airport, Tahiti on June 4.

Further information can be obtained as of June 2 from the Division of Public Information in Vienna (phone 2060-21276, fax 2060-29616).