Nuclear testing

Issue 

Nuclear testing

The lives of the people of Moruroa and Fangataufa in the South Pacific are in more danger following the election of the new French president. Jacques Chirac has signalled his intention to break the 1992 moratorium and resume nuclear testing in the Pacific.

France began atmospheric nuclear weapons tests at Moruroa in 1966. In 1975, under international pressure, it was forced to halt the program temporarily. After 44 atmospheric and 130 underground tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa, its last test was in October 1991. A moratorium was announced on April 8, 1992.

Greenpeace reports that no major study has been published about Moruroa, which, by 1989, with 118 devices tested, can accurately be described as a high level waste dump which contains several Chernobyls worth of radioactivity.

A modelling study by two Australian scientists has shown that if there were a major radioactive leak from Moruroa, either through a single discharge or through a constant release, the entire marine environment of Polynesia would be contaminated.

In 1987, a French commander uncovered short-lived radionuclides in the Moruroa lagoon. In 1990, a Greenpeace team found artificial radioactivity in plankton outside the military exclusion zone around Moruroa. In 1991, the International Atomic Energy Agency found elevated levels of plutonium 32.2 kilometres from Moruroa.

While no independent health study on the people of Moruroa has been undertaken by the French authorities, testimonies from the islanders, published by Greenpeace, indicate that they have suffered from higher than normal incidences of cancers, birth abnormalities and other illnesses, since the testing began.

Despite this, it looks likely that Chirac will end the three-year test ban. The Australian government, together with other countries currently observing a test ban — the United States, Britain and Russia — should be demanding that France continue its moratorium, and clean up the mess it has created in the South Pacific.

Yet, as recent deliberations over the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review in New York have revealed, this looks extremely unlikely.

None of the nuclear weapons states have pushed for a comprehensive test ban — although this was a plank of US President Clinton's election platform. Australia has even opposed New Zealand's call for the treaty's 185 signatories to agree on no new nuclear developments.

The US and Britain have also already said that they will not isolate France by signing the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. South Pacific countries may be able to use the upcoming South Pacific Forum in Papua New Guinea to condemn the tests, but only a concerted international campaign would stop nuclear testing and the development of new nuclear weapons.

No country should have the capability to destroy the world — least of all the five nations with some of the worst record on maintaining the peace: the US, Britain, China, France and Russia.

There is no justification for further nuclear weapons tests, anywhere. Further, it is time for the nuclear states to live up to their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty by proceeding rapidly to nuclear disarmament. There can be no peace in a world that is polarised between self-appointed global cops and the rest.

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