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France must clean up Algerian nuclear test sites: group

France carried out 17 nuclear tests in the Algerian desert between 1960 and 1966
France carried out 17 nuclear tests in the Algerian desert between 1960 and 1966 FAYEZ NURELDINE AFP/File
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Paris (AFP)

France must clean up nuclear test sites in Algeria where radioactive waste remains from testing in the former colony during the 1960s, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning group said Wednesday.

France carried out 17 nuclear explosions in the Algerian part of the Sahara Desert between 1960 and 1966.

Eleven of the tests came after the 1962 Evian Accords ended the six-year war of independence and 132 years of colonial rule.

"France must give the Algerian authorities the full list of where the contaminated toxic waste was buried," the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said in a new 60-page report.

"The 'nuclear past' must no longer remain deeply buried under the sand," ICAN said, citing the concerned areas as the western Reggane region and a zone close to the In Ekker village.

The campaign group identified contaminated, radioactive elements that have either been buried, or are easily accessible.

"The majority of the waste is in the open air, without any security, and accessible by the population, creating a high level of sanitary and environmental insecurity," ICAN said.

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize laureate group added that almost nothing has been done to clean the sites, inform the populations and evaluate the risks.

Exposure to radioactive material can cause cancer.

"This case study shows once more an asymmetry of power and an injustice that we find all through nuclear history," Giorgio Franceschini, director of the Heinrich Boll Foundation which published the report, said in his forward.

"It is not a coincidence that France tested its first nuclear weapon in Algeria, that was still a French colony in 1960," he added.

France refused to sign up the UN's 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, whereas Algeria signed and is in the process of ratifying the legally binding agreement.

Since Algeria's independence, Franco-Algerian relations have been tumultuous.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in July called on France to fully apologise for its colonial past.

An apology could "make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations", especially for the more than six million Algerians who live in France, he said.

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