US collaborates with French tests


The US government has given vital assistance to the French government so that the current round of nuclear tests in the South Pacific can go ahead, according to a report in the New Scientist. Despite vague statements critical of the tests, the US has given permission for France to fly loads of "military equipment" through its airspace. Some of the flights are likely to have breached US law, since it is illegal for plutonium to be flown through US airspace. Writing in the September 16 New Scientist, Rob Edwards reported that between 15 and 18 French military aircraft have been permitted to fly through US airspace since May, including three in the three weeks prior to the first test on Moruroa.
Flights carrying plutonium have been illegal since 1987, when Alaskan Senator Frank Murkowski successfully moved an amendment to prevent France flying plutonium to Japan through US airspace. The only legal exemptions are those defined by the US government as "directly connected with the United States national security or defence programs".
French military and nuclear energy authorities refused to tell New Scientist how the nuclear bombs are transported to the remote atolls. The US government seems to operate on an "ask no questions, get no lies" basis. US Department of State spokesperson Charles Evans told New Scientist: "Unless we suspect the presence of fissile material, we do not ask for any more specifics. There is no way that I can definitely say that those flights did not contain fissile material."
New Scientist reports that the French daily Le Monde has suggested that plutonium must have been flown through US airspace. The article says that two bomb subassemblies are needed for each test. They are carried on separate flights and put together before each test.
The Le Monde article says that the US refused permission for plutonium-laden flights in 1966, 1973 and 1974, during the period of atmospheric testing. This forced the French military to send the material by sea via the Panama Canal. That is why Panamanian President Colonel Manuel Noriega was made a commander of the French Legion of Honour in 1987.
The vital role US collaboration and acquiescence play in the tests also explains why French President Jacques Chirac agreed to a request from US President Bill Clinton to delay the first test until after his appearance in Hawaii to commemorate the end of World War II in the Pacific.
Greenpeace has called Clinton's stance on French testing "contradictory and cynical". Following the first blast, the State Department issued a statement merely "regretting" the test.
"This [mild] behaviour is an example of how the members of the nuclear club look out for each other", Sharon Tanzer of the lobby group Nuclear Control Institute told New Scientist. Greenpeace and the US peace movement are demanding that no more French military flights across the US be permitted.

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