Ignoring international protests, France detonated its second nuclear bomb in a month Sunday in the South Pacific, hours after seizing the last Greenpeace ship around the test site.
The French Defense Ministry said the test on Fangataufa Atoll measured “less than 110 kilotons.” By comparison, France’s first test on Sept. 5 was 20 kilotons, slightly larger the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
“This test was destined to guarantee for the future the sureness and viability of arms,” the ministry said in a statement.
The first test drew worldwide protest and prompted 1-1/2 days of rioting in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia and the staging area for both the nuclear tests and protesters.
The environmental group Greenpeace called the second test “an enormous affront” to the people of the South Pacific.
“People have the right to feel extremely insulted by the activity of the French government,” said Greenpeace spokeswoman in Papeete, Lynette Thorstensen.
President Jacques Chirac announced the series of up to eight tests this summer, saying they would be finished by the end of May. The tests ended a three-year moratorium that all the declared nuclear powers but China had honored.
Chirac argues the tests are needed to modernize France’s nuclear arsenal and develop computer test simulation, while critics say the blasts could encourage others to resume testing.
Protesters from Greenpeace have spent much of the past month in boats trying to enter the 12-mile exclusion zone around the two atolls, Mururoa and Fangataufa, which are about 750 miles from Papeete.
Earlier Sunday, French Marines seized a Greenpeace sailboat outside the 12-mile exclusion zone.
The director of Greenpeace-France, Penelope Komites, said in Paris that there was no justification for seizing the Manutea, an American-registered boat rented by Greenpeace. New Zealand Greenpeace spokesman Michael Szarbo labeled the French action “international piracy.”
But Armed Forces officials in Tahiti said a canoe with three people aboard was discovered 10-1/2 miles from Mururoa and “the Marines … noticed that this canoe came from the Manutea.”
In Paris, the Defense Ministry said the Manutea was seized by virtue of a “right of pursuit” after putting the canoe into the water. The canoe “deliberately penetrated” the exclusion zone, a ministry statement said.
The seizure of the Manutea, with eight to 10 people aboard, crippled Greenpeace, which has headed the anti-nuclear movement. Its two main vessels, the Rainbow Warrior II and the MV Greenpeace, were seized before the first test. The sailboat Vega was seized last week.
Demonstrations after the first test escalated into a day and night of riots that left part of Tahiti’s international airport burned out and dozens of shops and buildings in downtown Papeete looted and burned.