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Regrets from Islanders as Polynesian Test Site is Torn Down

October 14, 1996

PAPEETE, French Polynesia (AP) _ France is tearing down a nuclear test site on a Pacific islet where a recent series of blasts drew worldwide criticism. Some of the scrap recovered from Mururoa Atoll could wind up being sent to the bottom of the sea, today’s state television report said.

How much of the remains may be radioactive is not known.

Though the testing was underground, the site included a variety of structures, including housing for hundreds of scientists, soldiers and workers.

Islanders and military officials at the test station, meanwhile, said they regret the end of what had been a lucrative 30-year program for French Polynesia.

``There’s a great pain in the heart of every worker,″ said the village chief on Mururoa, Tua Tariki Tapi.

France conducted a final series of underground nuclear tests from September 1995 to January, before it signed a nuclear test ban treaty.

By the end of June, all civilian workers will have departed the atoll where 2,000 people worked during the program.

The dismantling, involving several thousand tons of material, should finish by 1998.

Once a year, a French nuclear surveillance team is to take air, water and coral samples to check for any contamination. Up to now, radioactivity has been ``on the lower end of our detectors,″ said Claude Payen, a surveillance team member.

Some equipment is being sent to the army, security forces or government of French Polynesia and the rest is to be sold or disposed of.

``To avoid criticism, we decided to demolish everything that wasn’t transferred,″ said Gen. Michel Boileau, director of the test center.

Many of the structures are being torn down and compressed into blocks by a hydraulic press. ``We are looking for scrap companies interested in it,″ Boileau said.

Some of the material could be sunk 10,000 feet under the sea, the documentary said.

French Polynesia will continue to receive about $200 million annually until 2005 to offset the loss of the test site.

But Boileau said the test center contributed to economic development in French Polynesia, and expressed concern about whether the financial help was enough.

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