No nuclear testing!

June 21, 1995

The June 13 announcement by the newly elected French president Jacques Chirac that nuclear weapons testing would be resumed at Moruroa Atoll has jeopardised the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and increased the danger of a major radioactive leak from the atoll.

Although Chirac has promised that only eight tests will be conducted before he signs the long-awaited CTBT in 1996, anti-nuclear activists are worried that the French move may encourage Britain and the US to resume testing possibly postponing, or watering down, the CTBT.

Speaking to Green Left Weekly from the Rainbow Warrior, which is currently heading for Moruroa, Greenpeace's Steve Sawyer described the French announcement as scandalous. "They are throwing a giant monkey wrench into the international negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty."

Commenting on the recent indefinite extension of the UN Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) he said, "The nuclear weapons states went to extraordinary lengths to assure the non-nuclear powers that all haste would be made in securing total nuclear disarmament, and, in particular, the conclusion of a comprehensive test ban treaty.

"But a few days after [the NPT] was concluded, China let off a nuclear test and now France has announced that it's going to resume [testing]. The whole thing is a sham which allows the nuclear powers to keep their unfair advantage over the rest of the world."


French nuclear testing in the Pacific goes back a long way. Between 1960 and 1989, France staged 184 nuclear tests. Prior to 1966, when testing in the Pacific began, France used another of its former colonies, Algeria, to stage 17 tests — four atmospheric and 13 underground blasts.

From 1966 France moved its tests to the Pacific, conducting 44 atmospheric tests over Moruroa and Fangataufa Atolls before international pressure forced an end to the blasts. Part of the success of that campaign was due to the New Zealand government's dispatch of a frigate to Moruroa, with support from the Australian government which sent a ship to refuel it.

From 1974, French tests were conducted underground at both Moruroa and Fangataufa. The last test took place in October 1991 before the government announced, in April 1992, that it was joining the unilateral Soviet moratorium begun in the mid 1980s. Altogether 123 underground tests has been carried out, almost all at Moruroa which, by 1989, had been the site of 118 underground blasts.

French governments have not only refused to take responsibility for the environment and health consequences of the underground tests, they have actively tried to obstruct scientific research into the effects of radioactive contamination.

According to Sawyer, "There has been extraordinarily few, and very limited, independent assessments of the environmental damage caused by the testing, both atmospheric and underground. The scientists have had very heavy restrictions placed upon them in terms of where they could take samples and what they could look for."

Despite this, he confirmed that the atoll is leaking radioactive contamination. "The basalt sub-structure of the atoll has been damaged. If this were a nuclear waste site anywhere in the world, [the French] would be in violation of every rule in the book." Nothing like this, he said, would be allowed to take place in France, or anywhere else, without vast testing, core sampling and structural analysis of the atoll and an assessment of the potential impact of the migration of radionuclides.

Agreement on the CTBT is threatened by the resumption of the French tests. In 1992 the former US president George Bush signed legislation which halted nuclear weapons testing in the US for nine months. The act required that the president submit a schedule for nuclear test ban talks with Russia and a plan for achieving a multilateral comprehensive ban on testing before the end of 1996.

No US nuclear tests could be conducted after 1996, unless another nation conducted a nuclear test explosion. Bush had opposed the moratorium, but Congress made it part of an appropriations bill so that it would not be vetoed. The US moratorium also brought British testing to a halt as their tests were conducted at US test sites.

Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigner Jean McSorley told Green Left Weekly that the relative silence of the US and British governments on the French announcement was because both still have a large nuclear arsenal. "There's a common myth that many countries are disarming, including Russia and the US, and as Jacques Chirac quite rightly pointed out [during his recent US visit], 'I don't see a lot of disarmament happening'."

McSorley said the British government had recently increased its nuclear fire power with its Trident missile submarines program. "There's not a lot of disarming going on by the British, and the Americans are only really getting rid of obsolete weapons."

Commenting on reports of a new French weapon, McSorley said the proposed tests were primarily about warhead testing, but that data from all of the tests is used in developing new weapons. "We know that all five weapons powers have got new weapons developments on the drawing board and are actively pursuing them."

McSorley put foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans and PM Paul Keating's muted response to the tests down to Australia's backward role in the NPT negotiations. "Evans and company pushed many countries, including the South Pacific Forum, to vote for an indefinite, non-conditional extension of the NPT. This allows the five nuclear weapons powers to continue with business as usual."

Because there was no disarmament time table agreed and no clear commitment on a CTBT, she said, the French and the Chinese governments are pursuing their nuclear plans. The irony, McSorley noted, is that testing now "will probably blow the whole idea of a CTBT for some years to come".

These fears are well founded. The US, however, is pursuing an alternative strategy to undermine a CTBT. Clinton committed his government to stop tests after 1996, and he was elected to the presidency on a platform that included support for a CTBT.

The Pentagon however is urging a redefinition of what constitutes a nuclear "test" as distinct from an "experiment". "Experiments", it says, would still be permitted after the CTBT was signed and proposed lifting the ceiling for "experiments" from its current 1.8 kilograms of TNT to 305,800-508,000 kilograms. US anti-nuclear campaigners warn that such changes would make the NPT meaningless.

The Australian government's pro-uranium policy puts it squarely in the nuclear proliferation camp Max Lane, Democratic Socialist Party NSW senate candidate, told Green Left Weekly. Australian uranium may well be ending up in the French weapons program, and, in future, may also be sold to Indonesia and other countries in the region. "The Keating government is also firmly linked into the nuclear cycle through its hosting of US military bases which are key communications installations for the targeting of nuclear and other weapons."

WA Greens Senator, Dee Margetts agrees. "The community must demand that the Australian government not sell our uranium stockpile to France when it is being made into nuclear bombs and tested in our region!"

Keith Locke, foreign affairs spokesperson for the New Zealand Alliance, told Green Left that the Alliance "supported calling an urgent meeting of the South Pacific Forum countries to co-ordinate a response to end all military ties with the French". The recent cross-Tasman exercises involving the Australian navy, four French and six NZ navy ships was evidence of expanding military relations that ought to be cancelled, he said.

Apart from supporting the Rainbow Warrior, the Alliance has also been involved in various protests, including organising one in Palmerston North outside the rugby test between NZ and France on June 16. "With a lot of working class support, we are trying to make an appeal to French workers and link up with protests there."

Lopeti Senituli, director of the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) in Fiji, called on all non-governmental organisations to join in the campaign. He wants the immediate suspension of the French government's partner status in the South Pacific Forum. By doing so, "the Pacific governments will prove to France and the rest of the world that they mean business when they oppose French nuclear testing in the South Pacific Forum's annual communiqu‚".

He urged Pacific Island countries to boycott the South Pacific games scheduled for August in the capital of French Polynesia, Papeete. The boycott is being supported by the indigenous Maohi people of French Polynesia. "I have spoken to Oscar Temaru, the leader of the largest pro-independence and anti-nuclear political party, who is also mayor of Faaa, the largest city in French Polynesia and he has expressed their total support for the boycott."

The PCRC, which is the secretariat of the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Movement, wants to be kept in touch with regional campaign actions. It can be contacted on (679) 304 649 or faxing (679) 304 755.

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