Posted by: helenrobertsbradford | February 24, 2010

Gerboise bleue

The 50th anniversary of the first French nuclear test passed on 13 February.  The atmospheric test, code-named Gerboise Bleue (‘blue jerboa’), took place at El Hammoudia in the Sahara desert, during the Algerian War.  A jerboa is a tiny rodent with large ears, filmed for the first time in 2007 by a Zoological Society of London expedition to the Gobi desert.  This map shows the ‘base atomique’ outlined in red and surrounded by oases and lakes, to the south west of the Tadmait plateau.

map of Sahara desert

Hand drawn map of the French nuclear test zone in the Sahara desert, 1960

The map is from a series of files in the Direct Action Committee archive which document one of the DAC’s most audacious projects, a protest entry into the French nuclear test zone.  In the build up to the project, information was gathered about the practicalities of direct action in desert conditions and the geography of the area.  The protest team was made up of British, American, French and African members, including Bayard Rustin, Bill Sutherland and Michael Scott.  They made three attempts to enter the zone.  Based in Accra, Ghana, the team had the backing of the Ghanaian leader, Kwame Nkrumah, and this was crucial in gaining widespread support in Ghana for the campaign.  Members of the team remained in the country for several months developing ideas for a positive action centre.  The French carried out three more atmospheric tests at El Hammoudia, Gerboise Blanche, Gerboise Rouge and Gerboise Verte, before shifting to underground tests from November 1961.

Ghana Council for Nuclear Disarmament

Letterhead of Ghana Council for Nuclear Disarmament, 1960

A documentary film, Gerboise Bleue, was made by Djamel Ouahab in 2009, in which survivors of the test were interviewed for the first time. This BBC report on compensation for the survivors includes video footage of the test.



  1. Thanks for your notes. You might now like to look in at my web site, where I have assembled the photographs of the weapons test made by the French military in the South Pacific, some time in the 1970’s.

    I find their photographs of nuclear fission to be an unexpected gift, providing extraordinary insight into the spiritual nature and processes of our Universe.

    So much spills over from this one insight. I’m trying to create some new work on what began with this few clear photos.
    I hope you will be moved by them

    Good luck.
    Ian Turnbull

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