Ron Hepworth - 20 Years After Sailing to Mururoa Atoll to Protest the Nuclear Bomb Testing

Interviewed by

Tim Lynch

Ron Hepworth - 20 Years After Sailing to Mururoa Atoll to Protest the Nuclear Bomb Testing

It is the 20th year anniversary of the yacht flotilla to the Mururoa atoll to halt French Nuclear tests.

It is the 20th year anniversary of the yacht flotilla to the Mururoa atoll to halt French Nuclear tests.

New Zealand has always been an outspoken critic of Nuclear testing and nuclear weapons. In total, 175 explosions took place at Moruroa and Fangataufa, in French Polynesia - 41 of which were atmospheric.

In 1973,the New Zealand and Australian governments took France to the International Court of Justice in an attempt to ban the tests. France ignored the court’s ruling that they cease testing.

The third New Zealand Labour government, led by Norman Kirk, responded by sending two navy frigates, HMNZS Canterbury and Otago, into the test area, with a Cabinet Minister on board. Prime Minister Kirk put all his Cabinet ministers’ names into a hat and drew out the name of Fraser Colman, the minister of immigration and mines. He sailed from Auckland on 25 June aboard the Otago, which carried a crew of 242. A month later the ship was at Mururoa, and those on board witnessed the first atmospheric test.

Fraser Colman transferred to the Canterbury when it arrived to relieve the Otago on 25 July, and he and the crew of the Canterbury saw the second French atmospheric test on Mururoa. These protests achieved some success: in 1974 the new French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, ordered that the tests move underground.

So when the ‘underground’ tests began in 1995, numerous New Zealanders decided on a yacht flotilla to sail to the Mururoa testing ground and doth protest.

Ron, tells of how the local community, the school, the local marae, and businesses supported New Zealand yachties in preparing for the journey. It was through grass roots organisations at community level and ordinary people that enabled 17 yachts to be furbished with supplies to set sail to halt the nuclear menace that was in our own back yard. It was the communities team effort that Ron conservatively estimated of up to 100 people supporting his needs during this time.

To organise this Nuclear free flotilla start-up, the New Zealand business sector was approached and they donated large amounts of food and drink, and vehicles to use, shipped for free to a local warehouse, warehousemen giving their time, food and drink was sorted and distributed to the various piers, as volunteerism was everywhere.

The reason was clear, for most New Zealanders realised our environmental vulnerability, for as an agricultural country, if our ecology was contaminated by nuclear radiation, New Zealand would be totally compromised as a food producing nation. For we were already proud of our Nuclear Free status enacted by David Lange’s Labour Government.

When they sailed, equipment failure forced them to first go to Rarotonga, it was found that their government was not actually in opposition to the French testing. Then onward towards the testing ground. The ocean had life everywhere, there were many fish of all sizes and birds too, (however the impact of the Pacific ocean in the last decade has been devastating and today Ron mentions there is very little in the way of fish).

The journey takes Ron to another island to renew supplies where he meets someone who was able to give him the inside scoop as to how French colonialism works and the unethical methods in which it enforces to control the local population, including media censorship, as well as all the mail both inward and outward being collected by the local police and particularly that there was a level or a glass ceiling that a Tahitian would never get past, be it a school teacher or bank worker, the French authorities never allowed locals to ascend to a level of power. This was policy!

That French imports were favoured, as well as subsidised, even over the production of localised food, which compromised local island production. Also, that French Government personnel and bureaucracy were encouraged by 100% pension incentives to retire in French Polynesia, thus distorting the demographics of life in the colonies.

It was noted that environmental and health situations were compromised too – anyone suffering and dying of cancer were transported out of French Polynesia and secreted away into mainland France to quietly die, with no recorded death in Tahiti, thus discretely keeping cancer deaths that could be attributed to nuclear radiation out of the public record. Especially, where families had multiple cancers and deaths, they were separated and transported ending up in different international locations where they died, leaving no ‘database’ of anybody that could make sense. Thus no records of an intergenerational terminal effect, because these numbers were never linked up. All this information being held under censorship.

Upon arrival at Mururoa, there were already many yachts protesting on the edge ‘of the zone’ yet there was always harassment from low flying French military planes, helicopters, spotlights dazzling at all times through the night by French naval vessels that would also sneak up on them at night startling the protesters keeping them from sleeping and resting. That the French naval inflatables that came up along side them to harass them were larger than their 30 foot yacht! It was all very intimidating.

So as there were plenty of larger boats protesting around the testing grounds including Greenpeace, that the small yacht Pickety Witch that Ron was on ended up leaving the area and instead going to other outer lying islands in the French Polynesian region and beyond, passing on information and educating the locals as to what was happening. This was to empower themselves by organising better and spreading the ‘no nuclear testing’ message and information as wide as they could.

Note: The nuclear device is detonated deep down inside a coral atoll, which is essentially the extension of a living organism and it is actually frail, not what you call solid like granite and it shatters easily and radiation is now leaking out along a fissure that is nearly half a metre wide that ran for over a kilometre around the base of the atoll. Thus leaking nuclear material into the Pacific ocean continues today and is on going – with a half life of 10s of 10’s of thousands of years.

When their yacht sailed back to Papeete, to a warm welcome from the Tahitians, but not the French authorities, the telephone that they used was tapped, the ‘local’ radio station had its finance withdrawn. The Tahitians there honoured them, with food, music, and offers of accommodation, but troops were in the streets including foreign legionnaires looking very grim, as there had been riots in Papeete including secret servicemen spying on them, taking photos.

Meanwhile, in Australia there were street protests as well as right across Europe. That the Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was told by the French Government that underground Nuclear testing was exceptionally safe. His retort was, if this is the case, then test it underground somewhere in France. There was only silence from the French Government.

Then Ron and the crew, finally sailed back to Rarotonga and Tonga back home and finding out on the way, how France had bribed officials in these countries to not criticise or rally against the French nuclear tests

Ron looks back on this journey, seeing that he and the others involved in this courageous protest, can say with integrity, that their acts were an essential and meaningful part of what was for our greater and collective good. As it also extended Ron and crew into the unknown.

Ron in reviewing our present world situation says we have to get beyond competition and exclusivity and to co-operate and work collaboratively and collectively within families, communities and locally – for this is where we can make a huge difference to our way of life and for the children of today and tomorrow.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moruroa

http://www.stuff.co.New Zealand/world/south-pacific/8872214/Mururoa-fallout-worse-than-first-thought

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Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch, is a New Zealander, who is fortunate in that he has whakapapa, or a bloodline that connects him to the Aotearoan Maori. He has been involved as an activist for over 40 years - within the ecological, educational, holistic, metaphysical, spiritual & nuclear free movements. He sees the urgency of the full spectrum challenges that are coming to meet us, and is putting his whole life into being an advocate for todays and tomorrows children. 'To Mobilise Consciousness.'

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