France To Continue Nuclear Tests Foreign Minister Cites Relative Lack Of Harsh Criticism
Emboldened by lukewarm reaction to its second nuclear test in the South Pacific, France reaffirmed its commitment Monday to press ahead with more underground blasts.
The environmental group Greenpeace called Sunday’s test beneath Fangataufa Atoll in French Polynesia “an enormous affront.” Australia and New Zealand lodged formal protests with the French government, and New Zealand again called in the French ambassador there.
But the United States and other key allies merely expressed “regret” at the test, and Britain and Germany reacted with indifference.
“I haven’t heard any demands - I’ve only heard regrets,” Foreign Minister Herve de Charette of France said at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
Premier Alain Juppe said Monday that France will conduct up to six more tests and “be among the first” to sign a global test ban treaty next year.
President Jacques Chirac has promised to sign the treaty after the tests, which he contends are safe and necessary to check France’s nuclear arsenal and develop computerized simulation tests.
The test Sunday was more than five times stronger than the first one, the French Defense Ministry said Monday. The ministry, in a terse statement, said only that the blast was “less than 110 kilotons.”
New Zealand seismologists estimated the blast was about 100 kilotons and produced a shock wave equal to a 5.9 magnitude earthquake.
The Sept. 5 test on nearby Mururoa Atoll measured less than 20 kilotons, slightly larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
The latest blast was widely believed to be a test of the TN-75 warhead for France’s new submarine-launched nuclear missile.
The Foreign Ministry repeated on Monday that France might shorten the series of tests, now planned to end by June, if it gets enough information from the first few blasts.
But environmental groups and the nations of the South Pacific have reacted angrily to the tests, which break a three-year moratorium. The world’s other nuclear powers, except China, have not tested nuclear arms since 1992.
“It is a wrong call for France politically and it is irresponsible environmentally,” said New Zealand’s prime minister, Jim Bolger.
Sunday’s blast also provoked swift condemnation from the prime minister of Australia.
Japan, Russia, the United States, Chile, Sweden and the European Commission merely expressed “regret.” Germany and Britain - Europe’s other nuclear power - carefully avoided criticizing the blast.