Magazine article Arms Control Today

France to Resume Nuclear Testing; Move Draws International Criticism

Magazine article Arms Control Today

France to Resume Nuclear Testing; Move Draws International Criticism

Article excerpt

ON JUNE 13, just one month after the end of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review and extension conference, newly elected President Jacques Chirac announced that France will resume nuclear testing at Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls in the South Pacific in September. The series of eight blasts, the first French tests since mid-1991, is scheduled to end not later than May 1996, after which, Chirac said, "France has the intention of signing [the comprehensive test ban treaty], without reserve, in the autumn of 1996."

Nuclear testing has been a political issue in France since former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand announced a moratorium in April 1992. Chirac, then mayor of Paris, wrote soon after the announcement that "France must resume its tests in the Pacific as soon as possible." Under strong pressure from a conservative Parliament and the Ministry of Defense, in 1993 Mitterrand appointed a committee headed by Admiral Jacques Lanxade, chief of staff of the armed forces, to examine the testing question. That report, submitted to Mitterrand in October 1993, argued that additional tests were required to certify the TN-100 nuclear warhead for the M-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile and to perfect computer simulation techniques.

A separate report presented in December 1993 by a group of parliamentarians from the Defense Committee called for up to 20 additional tests to fully develop French computer simulation techniques. According to Roget Baleras, director of the military applications division of the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique at the time, the computer simulations had to be complemented by actual tests "to validate the relevance of the models and to adjust the parameters of the simulations."

Mitterrand chose not to act on the Lanxade report and left the decision to his successor. The Lanxade report was apparently updated and resubmitted to Chirac, who then made what he termed the "irrevocable decision" to resume testing. The tests will allow France to complete its PALEN (Preparation a la Limitation des Essais Nucleaires) program, which is intended to establish the necessary data base for computer simulations and will cost an estimated 10 billion francs ($2 billion) over the next five years. …

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