Nuclear testing update

6th French test and Chirac's "new policy"

On 27 January, France set off its 6th nuclear blast on Fangataufa Atoll in French Polynesia. According to governmental sources, the explosion released less than 120 kilotons of energy. In comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 yielded slightly less than 20 kilotons. Of the tests conduded so far, this test was the most powerful, according to the French statement. However, New Zealand's lnstitute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences estimated the yield of the blast at 45 kilotons. Australian seismologists said it was between 40 and 150 kilotons, and it produced a shockwave equivalent to a 5.9 magnitude earthquake.

Again, many govemments as well as NGOs were protesting with the Pacific nations reading particularly angry. The South Pacific Forum, which represents tiny island-states worried about their fragile ocean environment, accused France of "arrogance and intransigence." In Rome, members of the Greens party protested outside the French Embassy, where they erected a 33-foot-tall Eiffel Tower made of wood and paper and released four white doves in the air. Greenpeace called the test "an act of crass stupidity", adding that this test "was a snub to participants at the CTBT talks". "Only by moving towards a global nuclear weapons ban can the nuclear club save face and stop 'threshhold' countries and terrorists from acquiring the bomb, Janet Bloomfield, leader of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), warned. Intemationaliy, the British CND chair Bloomfield is also on the Ad-Hoc Committee of the Clearinghouse of the Abolition 2000 Network.

It goes without saying that French anti-nuclear coalitions strongly condemned this 6th test in multifarious ways, as well. Daniel Durand, national secretaly of the "Mouvement de la Paix", which is part of the Abolition 2000 Network, stated:This 6th test isolates France even further and jeopardizes the success of the NPT. It is important to demand that the French govemment stops testesting now and creates the condition necessary to sign a CTBT with no exception. Lab research should be stopped. Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, key sponsor of the Canberra Commission, stated: "The French govemment is to be strongly condemned for this latest test at Fangataufa and for conducting it during negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which are entering the final critical stages in Geneva." However, most of those countries protesting French nuclear testings stopped short of imposing any punitive actions against Paris. As far as Tahiti is concerned, the French National Assembly, in just another colonialist-type move, postponed eledions for the territorial Parliament from March to May.

On 29 January, President Chirac announced the end of French nuclear testing [the term "nuclear testing" in this regard does not necessarily include, for.example, computer-based test simulation; -ed.]. In his televised statement, Chirac said, among other things: "... Thanks to the final series which has just taken place, France will have a durable, reliable and modern defense. The security of our country and of our children is assured. I know that the decision I took last June may have caused, in France and elsewhere, worries and emotion. (..) A new chapter is opening. France will play an active and determined role in word disarmament and for a better European defense. I will take initiatives in this direction in the coming weeks ..." This announcement was immediately hailed by many - mainly Western - governments with almost no concern that Chirac's move could be unreliable.

Nuclear disarmament policy? lmmediately affer its 6th nuclear blast, Chirac declared testing was over. French Defence Minister Charles Millon said France would push for a total ban on tests, sign a treaty declaring the South Pacific nuclear-free and lobby for closer European defence policies. France would close its only factory producing fissile material, scrap its ageing land-based nuclear missiles and dismantle the mothballed short-range Hades missile, according to an announcement by President Chirac. Government spokesman Alain Lamassoure added France would be "the first nuciear nation to close its testing centre." Gaston Flosse, president of French Polynesia's territorial assembly, was reporting as saying Chirac had promised 990 million francs $200 million) a year over 10 years to compensate for lost military investments in the tropical coral atolls and isiands.

Before departing to a summit of Asian nations and the European Union at Bangkok, President Chirac, as arrogant as ever, declared that France was becoming " the number one champion of nuclear disarmament" in the world. In turn, Socialist parliamentarian Henri Emmanuelli commented, among other things: "lt only remains for Mr Chirac to take command of one of the Greenpeace boats he ordered seized last September and embark on a triumphal tour of the Pacific."

Nuclear weapon-free zones

African Nuclear Free Zone

In April, foreign ministers will have a meeting in Cairo convened by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to sign the Cairo Declaration calling for making the African continent a nuclear free area. The Cairo Declaration would have three apprended treaties banning acquisition and production of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests. Egypt will also invite to this meeting the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as OAU and UN Secretary Generals and lAEA Director General.