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UK activists report on Mururoa bomb

By SIMONA de LOGU

LONDON, Sept. 12 -- Two British Greenpeace activists described Tuesday how the floor seemed to drop from beneath their feet and rise again as they witnessed France's first controversial nuclear test on Mururoa atoll from their concrete prison cells. 'I could hear over the intercom a countdown every ten minutes or so, ' said 31-year-old seasoned Greenpeace activist Al Baker. 'I heard a siren and then the floor appeared to drop and then come up and then drop again. I heard a very loud muffled bang and at the same time I could hear the room settling down and the timber and concrete creaking back into place.' Baker and fellow Greenpeace activist Matthew Whitting evaded French security forces on the south Pacific atoll for more than 30 hours in their attempt to delay any nuclear tests by their presence, but were finally seized and jailed. They arrived at Mururoa by crossing the atoll's 30 mile (48 km) exlusion zone in an inflatable boat under the cover of night and then changed into two sea kayaks to paddle across the atoll's lagoon. Baker set off distress flares from his kayak while Whitting landed near the inhabitated part of the atoll to take pictures and stick Greenpeace stickers on as many buildings as possible. The pair said overall they were treated 'fairly' by the French authorities, even though Whitting had a harrowing encounter with French parachute marines who tied his wrists behind his back and to his ankles and threatened to kill him if he did not reveal the whereabouts of any other activists.

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'At the end of that gun I really believed I was going to die,' said 36-year-old Whitting, a former French Legionnaire who had been stationed on Mururoa in the past. 'I was so confused, so afraid. I urinated in my pants.' Whitting said he had been 'unfortunate' in being caught by a patrol of six young soldiers he had escaped from earlier, but did not accuse the French authorities of bad treatment. Whitting and Baker, who handed himself in to security forces, were held for 48 hours by French police and interrogated but not charged. They were held on Mururoa for a further 2 days by the French Foreign Legion before being flown to Tahiti and then deported to France and on to London. 'I objected to being there while the explosion went off, or being locked up when no one would have let us out if things had gone wrong,' Baker said. He described how the personnel on Mururoa was taken to safety platforms while he and Whitting were left in their cells. The platforms, several meters off the ground, serve to protect in case the explosion sets off a tidal wave or causes the atoll to sink. Whitting, who was asked by Greenpeace to participate in the Mururoa campaign due to his knowledge of the atoll, said the Greenpeace campaign proved that security on Mururoa was 'very lax' and called into question French assurances that the nuclear tests were safe. 'It really is a disaster area,' Whitting said. 'There are cracks as large as after the California earthquake.

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