THE French are quitting the Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls in the South Pacific, but are leaving in their wake fears of possible nuclear contamination. After conducting at least 123 nuclear tests beneath the Mururoa rocks and eight under Fangataufa between 1975 and 1996, France finally announced to the world that it would stop nuclear testing.
While Jean-Eric Winckler, head of the French army's press office, claims that "nothing is contaminated at Mururoa", independent scientists contend otherwise. The underground tests have created cavities in the rocks which have been plugged with concrete. But Manfred Hochstein of the University of Auckland says that residual heat from the explosions could create convection currents, increasing the flow of water through the rock and onto the surface. Said Richard Antiss of the Auckland Institute of Technology, "What we don't know is whether enough can escape to pose a problem of toxicity."
The un's International Atomic Energy Agency is taking samples of the rocks to check for possible contamination dangers and will report the findings in December.
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