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Austin Cooper, Doctoral Candidate
“Radiation Atrocity” Stories and Popular Protests against the French Bomb in 1960s Morocco
African outrage engulfed the proving of France’s atomic bomb in February 1960 near the oasis town of Reggane in the Algerian Sahara, territory that was still colonized but sharply contested during the Algerian War for Independence (1954-62). Just across the border in newly-independent Morocco, political parties, labor unions, and press outlets had been stoking popular protests against the French bomb for weeks prior to the explosion, and these continued for months as France detonated three more nukes in the atmosphere above the Sahara. This paper emphasizes local, hybrid, vernacular understandings of health risks posed by radioactive debris from French explosions in the Sahara that emerged amidst the popular protests in Morocco during the early 1960s. Distinct but not disconnected from twentieth-century radiation biology, these ideas about risk proved crucial to the way Moroccan politics and international diplomacy saw the impact and meaning of popular protests. What one foreign observer dubbed the “radiation atrocity” stories that he saw proliferating in Moroccan newspapers and radio seemed at once farfetched and serious. Although the facts may not have all checked out, these stories threatened to spark clashes with the Moroccan police, jeopardize foreign investment in Morocco’s economy, and seed opposition across Africa not only to the French bomb but also to nuclear weapons in general. The logics of popular protest in Morocco help to explain how African decolonization broadened the participants in the Cold War arms race and challenges to it.