Plus de 60 ans après que la France a commencé ses essais nucléaires en Algérie, leur héritage continue d'empoisonner les relations entre la nation nord-africaine et son ancien dirigeant colonial. </p><div> <p>La question est revenue sur le devant de la scène après que le président Emmanuel Macron a déclaré mardi en Polynésie française que Paris avait "une dette" envers le territoire du Pacifique Sud pour les essais atomiques qui s'y sont déroulés entre 1966 et 1996.
The damage that mega-explosions caused to people and nature in the former colonies remains a source of deep resentment, seen as evidence of discriminatory colonial attitudes and contempt for local life.
“Radioactivity-related diseases are passed on as a heritage, generation after generation,” said Abderahmane Toumi, head of the Algerian victim support group El Gheith El Kadem.
“As long as the region is polluted, the danger will persist,” he said, citing serious health effects, from birth defects and cancers to miscarriages and infertility.
France successfully carried out its first atomic bomb test in the depths of the Algerian Sahara in 1960, making it the world’s fourth nuclear power after the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain.
Today, as Algeria and France struggle to face their painful shared history, the identification and decontamination of radioactive sites remains one of the main disputes.
In his historic report on French colonial rule and the Algerian war of 1954-62, historian Benjamin Stora recommended the continuation of joint work that examines “the locations of nuclear tests in Algeria and their consequences”.
In the 1960s, France had a policy of burying all radioactive waste from Algerian bomb testing in the desert sands and, for decades, refused to reveal their location.
Former Algerian Minister of Veterans Affairs Tayeb Zitouni recently accused France of refusing to publish topographic maps which would identify “the landfills of polluting, radioactive or chemical waste not discovered to date”.
“The French side has not technically led any initiative to clean up the sites, and France has not undertaken any humanitarian act to compensate the victims,” Zitouni said.
According to the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Paris, Algeria and France “are now dealing with the whole subject at the highest level of the State”.
“France has provided the Algerian authorities with the cards it has,” the ministry said.
Between 1960 and 1966, France conducted 17 atmospheric or underground nuclear tests near the town of Reggane, 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from the capital Algiers, and in mountain tunnels at a site then called In Ekker.
Eleven of these were carried out after the Evian Accords of 1962, which granted independence to Algeria but included an article authorizing France to use the sites until 1967.
A radioactive cloud from a 1962 test sickened at least 30,000 Algerians, estimated the country’s official news agency APS in 2012.
French documents declassified in 2013 revealed significant radioactive fallout from West Africa to southern Europe.
Algeria set up a national agency for the rehabilitation of former French nuclear test sites last month.
In April, the Algerian army chief of staff, General Saïd Chengriha, asked his then French counterpart, General François Lecointre, for his support, including access to all maps.
“We respect our dead”
Receiving the cards is “a right that the Algerian state strongly claims, without forgetting the issue of compensation for Algerian victims of the trials”, underlined a senior army officer, General Bouzid Boufrioua, in the magazine du Ministry of Defense El Djeich.
“France must assume its historic responsibilities,” he argued.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, however, ruled out any claim for compensation, telling the weekly Le Point that “we respect our dead so much that financial compensation would be devaluing. We are not a beggar people ”.
France adopted a law in 2010 which provided for a compensation procedure for “people suffering from diseases resulting from exposure to radiation from nuclear tests carried out in the Algerian Sahara and in Polynesia between 1960 and 1998”.
But out of 50 Algerians who have since launched demands, only one, a soldier from Algiers who was stationed at one of the sites, “was able to obtain compensation,” says the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN ).
No residents of the remote desert region have been compensated, he said.
In a study published a year ago, “Radioactivity under the sand,” ICAN France urged Paris to hand over to Algeria a complete list of burial sites and to facilitate their clean-up.
The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons obliges states to provide adequate assistance to those affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons.
It was signed by 122 UN member states, but none of the nuclear powers. France argued that the treaty was “incompatible with a realistic and progressive approach to nuclear disarmament”.
ICAN France in its study argued that “people have been waiting for over 50 years. We have to go faster.
“We are still faced with a major health and environmental problem that must be addressed as quickly as possible. “