The twentieth century saw Britain, America and France use the Pacific as a testing ground for nuclear weaponry, and these projects had a devastating impact on the local communities and environment that will last for generations. On 2 July 1966, France began the first of 193 nuclear tests at Moruroa atoll in French Polynesia, with catastrophic effect. Here, we bring together some perspectives from different areas of the Museum to commemorate that day.

Mururoa by the Pacific Sisters

Tāmaki Herenga Waka

Mururoa by the Pacific Sisters

In the Maranga! Activate! room of our new Auckland-centred galleries Tāmaki Herenga Waka Stories of Auckland you'll find the powerful presence of an aitu/avatar created by the Pacific Sisters.

The figure is called Mururoa and along with the accompanying track Moruroa by Henry Ah-Foo Taripo, it protests the environmental destruction caused by French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll between 1966 to 1996. The post-apocalyptic figure is a troubled protector of a world devastated by their own actions. 

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Reflections on Moruroa

The Deep Secret

Reflections on Moruroa

In this blog, we speak to Auckland War Memorial Museum Cultural Advisor Ena Manuireva about the effect of the nuclear testing in Moruroa on his family, his community, and what still isn’t known about the lasting impacts. 

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Mapping Moruroa

A depiction of the impact nuclear bombs and testing has had on the Pacific. Spanning from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the very northwest across the entirety of the Moana to Moruroa and Fangataufa in the southeast. Read more


Documenting Moruroa

Much has been written to document the scale and reach of the damage caused by the Moruroa atmospheric testing programme. Paula Legel (Associate Curator, Heritage Publications) presents here a selection of items from the Museum's collection that describe the ongoing effects on communities.

Click on each image to read more about the item in Collections Online.


Testimonies: witnesses of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific

Testimonies: witnesses of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific

by Michael Szabo (Greenpeace historian)

Testimonies contains dozens of interviews gathered by Rainbow Warrior doctor Andy Biederman during 1987-88 with extensive annotations added by Greenpeace Test Ban Campaigner Stephanie Mills to help place the personal testimonies in the chronological context of the French Government’s nuclear weapons testing programme.

When it was published on 4 September 1990, Testimonies received global news coverage including a cover story feature and extracts appearing in The Listener in NZ and The Guardian in the UK. It was also published in a French language edition under the title, “Témoignages” which was reported in Le Monde daily newspaper in France and the main newspaper in Tahiti, Les Nouvelles de Tahiti.

On 3 July 2013 the contents of thousands of declassified official French defence ministry papers were reported in the newspaper Le Parisien which showed that the extent of radioactive fallout from the nuclear tests at Moruroa in the 1960s and 1970s was kept hidden. For example, an atmospheric nuclear test on 17 July 1974 exposed the most populous island of Tahiti to 500 times the maximum allowed level of radioactive plutonium fallout. The fallout also spread 1,500-km north-east of Moruroa to Bora Bora. Of the 2,050 pages of declassified documents, 114 pages remained blacked out.

A study by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW 1991) estimated that the radiation and radioactive materials from all atmospheric nuclear weapons testing absorbed by people up until the year 2000 would cause 430,000 additional cancer deaths, some of which had already occurred by the time the IPPNW study was published.
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Mike Townsley from Greenpeace International has stated Greenpeace International approve of the digitisation in full, including any copyright and authorship, and its use for study and educational purposes, by Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.


Cartoon collection

Cartoonists in both France and New Zealand had a field day with the Greenpeace Affair, one of the most newsworthy events of 1985 and for some, their only exposure to the history of this era of nuclear testing. 

The Rainbow Warrior collection : French and New Zealand cartoon comments on the "Greenpeace Affair". Auckland War Memorial Museum. UB251.F7 RAI.