Delayed fallout in Algeria
Jean-Claude Hervieux still remembers joining a crowd of soldiers and high-level officials in Algeria's Sahara desert to witness one of France's first nuclear tests. Things didn't go exactly as planned.
Instead of being contained underground, radioactive dust and rock escaped into the atmosphere. Everyone ran, including two French ministers. At military barracks, the group showered and had their radiation levels checked as a crude means of decontamination. "You don't see nude ministers very often," Hervieux chuckled.
But as France marks the 60th anniversary of its first nuclear test – near Algeria's border with Mauritania, on February 13, 1960 – there is not much to laugh about. Critics have long claimed more than three decades of nuclear testing may have left many victims, first in Algeria and later in French Polynesia, where the bulk of testing took place.
But so far, just a few hundred have been compensated, including one single Algerian. And as key nuclear testing anniversaries tick by, the unresolved fallout of the nuclear explosions has also fed into long-standing tensions between Paris and its former colony.