Study: French Polynesia Nuke Tests Slightly Increased Cancer Risk

PARIS (AFP-Jiji) — Polynesians exposed to fallout from France’s nuclear tests in the South Pacific have a slightly increased risk of developing thyroid cancer, a study suggested last month, using declassified military data for the first time.

France carried out 41 atmospheric nuclear weapon tests in French Polynesia between 1966 and 1975, exposing residents to fallout which has been a source of lasting friction between Paris and residents of the Pacific archipelago.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, used risk modeling to estimate that the nuclear tests were associated with between 0.6% and 7.7% of thyroid cancers in French Polynesia.

“This is the proportion of thyroid cancer attributable to the tests among all the cases of thyroid cancer that have or will develop in the people present at the time of the tests, in all islands combined,” the study’s lead author Florent de Vathaire told AFP.

The impact of the nuclear tests was “weak but not at all nonexistent,” said de Vathaire, a radiation expert at France’s INSERM medical research institute.

The study compared 395 people who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 1984 and 2016 in French Polynesia with a control group of 555 from the general population.

It was an update from previous research the same team had published in 2010.

“This is the first study that uses confidential army reports declassified in 2013,” de Vathaire said.

Using the documents, meteorological data and interviews with the cancer patients, the researchers simulated the radioactive cloud produced by each nuclear test, and estimated the dose of radiation received in the thyroid of each participant.