Marie-Thérèse and Bengt Danielsson

Awarded 1991


For exposing the tragic results of, and advocating an end, to French nuclear colonialism.

Marie-Thérèse (1924-2003) and Bengt Danielsson (1921-1997), were a married couple and experts in Tahitian culture and society. They campaigned against French nuclear colonialism in the Pacific and the disastrous effects of the radiation coming from the nuclear testing base at Moruroa, French Polynesia. Despite the enormous damage to people’s health and the environment, the French government has blocked all independent investigation and study of this human tragedy so that their full extent is not known.

The Danielsson’s published numerous scientific studies on Polynesia, including a six-volume history of the islands, and popular books, many of which have been translated. In addition to their anthropological and scientific work, the Danielsson’s ceaselessly sought to expose and campaign against French nuclear colonialism, with its widely destructive social and environmental impacts. The Danielsson’s were also concerned with the health effects of the nuclear tests.

Starting in 1966, 44 atmospheric tests were conducted in French Polynesia. After international pressure, tests continued underground. More than 130 tests were carried out on the two tiny atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa but the French government blocked all independent investigation and study of their negative effects so that their full extent is unknown.

Are the radio nuclides released from the French nuclear tests in the Pacific any different from those produced by the American, Russian, British and Chinese bombs? Certainly not!

Bengt Danielsson, 1991 Laureate

Bengt Danielsson was born in Sweden in 1921. After graduating, he worked as director of Sweden's National Museum of Ethnology. In 1947 he joined Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition, ending up in the South Seas. He got married to Marie-Thérèse, a French national, in 1948, after which they lived in Tahiti, where she was very active in local politics and women's environmental organisations.

Although the French had 'ruled' French Polynesia since 1842, they had little use for the islands, which were therefore relatively untouched by colonialism until 1963, when President de Gaulle decided to use them for atomic testing, having been denied further use of the Sahara by Algerian independence in 1962. The islands were suddenly overrun by French troops, bureaucrats and other immigrants. The indigenous economy took a nose-dive (from virtual self-sufficiency in 1960 the islands now import 80 per cent of their food) and all the evils of maldevelopment appeared: slums, malnutrition, traffic congestion, etc. The Danielssons' account of this situation was first published in 1974 and then a revised version in 1986 as Poisoned Reign: French Nuclear Colonialism in the Pacific (Penguin, London).

Shortly after receiving the Right Livelihood Award, Bengt's health deteriorated considerably and he died in July 1997. Marie-Thérèse Danielsson was then following alone their common goals: to help the Polynesians to find the right way to fair and rational independence and, at the same time, to obtain complete information on the harm caused by the French nuclear tests over 30 years. She passed away in 2003.

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