“We had to wait inside the shelters until the rain passed,” says Daniel, a local farmer from Mangareva, one of the French Polynesian islands in the Gambier Archipelago, 1,500 kilometres south-east of Tahiti. He describes the drill carried out by French military officers for the island’s 500 residents on 24 August 1968, the day Canopus – a thermonuclear device 150 times stronger than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 – went off 400km away.
This was neither the first nor the last time islanders would seek shelter when it rained. Between 1966 and 1996, France conducted 193 nuclear tests in what was then the Overseas Territory of French Polynesia. Forty-six tests were carried out in the atmosphere, the blasts producing radioactive clouds that floated with the winds, depositing radionuclides all over the environment and exposing people, fauna and flora to abnormal levels of irradiation.
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