The Association of Former Nuclear Site Workers who took part in French nuclear testing on Muroroa claims it has evidence that the French government is building a laboratory, linked to plans for undersea mining. The offfical word from the ruling party in Papeete is that some kind of bunker is being built, but since then the French military has come out with a different line, insisting there is no construction underway.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Rear-Admiral Anne Cullerre, joint armed forces commander in French Polynesia
CULLERRE: As we understand these days, absolutely no construction and no building ongoing in Mururoa and there's no undersea mining at all.
COUTTS: The military says platforms are being built on the atoll to provide a safe haven for 35 personnel there should there be a coral collapse, that could trigger a huge wave, so that construction at least?
CULLERRE: Well, this construction has been on the island for about 30 years, so this is absolutely not new and the people in Tahiti and the neighbouring islands know all about it, so this absolutely not new. And this is true, that we are monitoring the islands, because there could really ?? be some kind of landslide or some sparks off the coral reef, so we have to keep on monitoring the island because of this. But this is not new, this has been going on for the last 30 years.
COUTTS: So what's causing the degradation of the coral reefs that the military needs to keep such a close eye on it?
CULLERRE: Well, it's not an ongoing degradation, it's just because during the nuclear test, the coral reef has been somehow unstabilised and there's been a lot of studies at the time on how we could survey and monitor after the nuclear test, and it's still being monitored by the way. And all the studies show that it's absolutely at the time, no further degradation, but as you know there's no zero risk, so we must care for this and we must care for the people on the island, because we have 30 military keeping servants there and there is an island also Turea which is about 100 kilometres away from Mururoa and if anything should happen, the worst thing, the very worst scenario, there could be a wave our there of about one metre, one-metre-50, which would mean that the coral reefs out there in Turea would be flooded. So it means that people fishing on foot would have to be warned beforehand and we and because of this monitoring, we have forewarning in advance of about one to two weeks.
COUTTS: Well, the front has confirmed Mururoa's stability and that comes from recent information that's come, that there's some kind of fracture across a large junk of Mururoa, that if it breaks off, it could in fact generate a tsunami?
CULLERRE: Alright. Well, there's been a lot of things, lot of things have been told about Mururoa and the fracture. What I can tell you is that there is this monitoring going on and the constructions are not new and the risk for the moment is valuated up to zero, even though there is no nil risk. So we'll be keeping on this surveillance for the years to come probably, because we have a responsibility towards the people of French Polynesia.
COUTTS: And, but you do confirm that there is a crack and the surface is being monitored, and a large junk of it, which could break away?
CULLERRE: Well, there's no crack in the surface. It's just that the reef has been destabilised during the test again as I said and we know that things could happen. We just don't know when. And just now, just as I'm speaking to you, the reef is nil. But we never know, so we have to keep on some kind of surveillance. And, again as I said, the mostly, the very worst scenario, what could happen, for the military on Mururoa, the worst which could happen would be a wave, so they would have forewarning in advance, they would have to be evacuated, And the nearest island again, 100 kilometres away from Mururoa, they would have, they would be warned one to two weeks before anything happened. And the worst which could happen would be a one, two, 1.52 metres maximum wave, and this would mean just a flood and this would mean that the people fishing on foot would have to be forewarned in advance, so that they shouldn't be fishing in this area, that's all.
COUTTS: Well, what do you make of the claim and why is the claim rising now made by nuclear test veterans that a laboratory is being built on Mururoa?
CULLERRE: But, I just don't know. I mean we are in France, this is a democracy, so people can say whatever they want. I'm just telling what I know, because I'm in charge of all the surveys there and I'm telling you what I know and what I know is that there is absolutely no construction and no building ongoing in Mururoa right now.
COUTTS: The threat, or is the French Government interested in mineral investigation and bearing in mind the ongoing dispute over French Polynesia status, would the government in Papeete be informed?
CULLERRE: Well, I'm mean, I'm not going to dwell into politic issues, because this is way above my pay ? grade, so I guess that France would be interested in this, but it's not only Mururoa.
COUTTS: Alright, Senator Richard Tueova wants to visit Mururoa to see for himself what's going on there and based on what you've said about the construction work, is there any reason to prevent him from going and clearing this matter up once and for all, having a first eye view himself?
CULLERRE: Well no, I mean absolutely not. The thing is that this will have to be organised. They've been there a view times before. I think the last time they went there was 2010. Now if they have questions, I do understand that they would like to go back there, so we certainly will have to organise something, no doubt about this.
COUTTS: OK. Just reiterating. After more than 130 underwater blasts on Mururoa since 1996. Can you be sure it's safe for anybody to be doing anything on the atoll?
CULLERRE: I mean are people doing anything on the atoll?
COUTTS: Well, because there's been so many blasts, can you be confident now it's safe?
CULLERRE: Well, I have 30 military living over here around on Mururoa. They bath in the lagoon, they live there. Do you think if there was any danger I would leave them there?
COUTTS: And is there any likelihood for French Polynesia's status to change in concerning Mururoa?
CULLERRE: Well again, this is above my pay ? grade there. This is all about politics. I'm not going to say anything about this. I'm a military, right. (laughs)