AN UPDATE ON FRENCH NUCLEAR TESTING AND OTHER NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT ISSUES:(As At 28 November 1995)
- The Fourth Test
- The Second Test at Fangataufa Atoll
- Latest Information on the First French Atomic Bomb Test
- Prime Minister Jim Bolger's Response
- Latest Developments Regarding the World Court Project
- Other Anti-French Nuclear Testing Developments
- Other Nuclear Disarmament Issues
The Fourth test at Mururua
Last week the French Ambassador Jacques Le Blanc was once again called to meetings with the Foreign Minister, after the latest french nuclear test, in what is becoming a routine scolding at Parliament. McKinnon said "I am exasperated and disgusted". Jacques Le Blanc has been summoned to meetings after each of the three previous tests, on September 5, October 2 and October 27.
A French statement on the 21 of November said the underground blast, equivalent to less than 40 000 tonnes of conventional explosives was detonated at the Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia at 10.30 pm Paris time. President Jacques Chirac has said France will cut the number of tests to six from a scheduled eight. Chirac has promised to sign the Test Ban Treaty once the series is completed, by May 31 at the latest. He says France needs the tests to validate a new warhead for its submarine-based missiles and acquire simulation capacity.
A crest of global outrage followed the second, and so far the largest blast in France's new series of nuclear tests. The explosion occurred at 00.30 am Paris time on Monday 2 October (2330 GMT on Sunday)and was just under 110 kilotonnes of TNT-six times the size of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima 50 years ago. Military experts said the blast was probably aimed at testing the 150-kilotonne TN 75 warhead equipping the latest generation of nuclear submarines. President Jacques Chirac has said France needs between 6 and 8 tests to validate a new warhead and trigger, and acqire the capacity to simulate tests on computer vefore signing a 'tru zero' global ban on all nuclear explosions. However Chirac has more recently hinted at the possibility of carrying out just six tests rather than the eight initially planned, and that they may end well ahead of the scheduled target of May 31, 1996.
The strongest outrage at this latest test came from the Pacific rim nations Japan, Australia and New Zealand, however the United States, another nuclear power, also criticised the test, calling it regrettable. In Wellington a group of Greenpeace protesters blockaded the French ambassador's residence on Tuesday morning in protest against French nuclear testing, handcuffing themselves to large drums full of concrete. There were about 12 protesters at he blockade who had placed banners around the residence including a two metre high poster of French President Jacques Chirac with the words "environmental criminal" written on it.
Fangataufa atoll is far smaller than Mururoa and has no permanent civilian population or buildings. Four atmospheric tests were carried out at Faugataufa from 1966 and France's first underground charge was exploded there in 1975. Since then there have been seven more tests at the site, one under its natural lagoon. The north end of Fangataufa has subsided unnaturally quickly because of the blasts and so, since 1988, tests there have carried out under the floor of the lagoon. The land is inhabited by thousands of rare wild birds, and millions of hermit crabs crawl over the island which is covered with low lying scrub. Local Polynesians sometimes collect the leaves for use as soothing bandages.
Nuclear devices are lowered into metallic basalt rock beneath another deep (438 yards)layer of chalky rock compacted over the centuries by dead coral. The basalt vitrifies at the moment of the blast, sealing in the radioactivity. France's Atomic Energy Commission admits that its first ever atmospheric test over Fangataufa's lagoon in 1966 released a radioactive cloud which contaminated the land. Gerard Martin, head of radiological and biological monitoring at the atolls, says that Fangataufa was cleaned up the following year.
Latest Information on the First French Atomic Bomb Test
This information was compiled and forwarded to PlaNet by Kate Dewes of the Foundation for Peace Studies 6/9/95.
This morning ( 9.30am NZ time) the French exploded an 8Kt bomb at Mururoa. This was confirmed by our seismologists and crew on the Tui. Equipment on the Tui also recorded other blasts which they say do not match the French statement - the NZ govt is investigating.
While we thought we were prepared for it - it has still come as a shock. Our conservative Prime Minister has hauled in the French Ambassador grilling him about when, how and in what circumstances France would use nuclear weapons. We were delighted to hear our Prime Minister state that nuclear deterrence will not work unless you intend to use the bomb ! There must be flaws in their logic if the French say they are not going to use these weapons!(Note transcript of interview with Bolger attached ).
From a government desperate to get back into an active ANZUS nuclear alliance it augurs well for what they will argue at the upcoming World Court hearings on the legality of the threat and use of nuclear weapons!!
Here is a summary of recent activities 'down under':
- NZ has recalled our Ambassador to France
- Our Minister of Women's Affairs gave a very strong speech at Beijing yesterday condemning both the French and Chinese tests
- Two former UK SAS agents were arrested by France yesterday having reached the Atoll
- Immediately following the test this morning the French gendarmes carried out 12-15 protesters who had stormed the French Centre in Papeete, Tahiti
- Following allegations of excessive use of violence when the Greenpeace crews were arrested over the weekend, the French have now agreed to make an inquiry into the 'incidents '. A Radio NZ reporter witnessed people being kicked and pulled upstairs by their hair. Women were forced to go to the toilet accompanied by 3 commandos who refused them any privacy. Australia and Netherlands have also protested at the violence.
- PM Bolger has written an article which will be published in Le Monde tomorrow.
- Over 40 community leaders and youth will leave tomorrow for a speaking tour of France. The group includes a judge, mayors, academics, church leaders.
With NZ's World Court test case expected to be heard at the Court next week it will not be lost on the judges that France seems to have a blinkered vision of the LAW. Somehow international law of the sea permits them to impound boats and force people to crew boats after beating them in the name of the LAW. What about law which comes from the World Court - the legal arm of the Security Council of which France is a permanent member? They also have quasi permanent status on the World Court. There has always been a French judge. How long can this discrimination continue??
Peace Movement Aotearoa
Mr Jim Bolger left the French Ambassador with a very clear message that the testing was a very serious step by France and that New Zealand would and had responded strongly and would continue to do so. He stated that there was a lack of logic in the French position and asked the French Government to reconsider.
He stated that there was no purpose to nuclear testing and that the only purpose could be to make bigger nuclear weapons to kill more people. He asked where the French were going to use such weapons? (ANSWER: no-where)Who will they be used against? (answer: no-one) Will they use them? ( Answer: they are only for deterrence) He asked how they expected the world to accept what they were doing when the reduction of nuclear weapons is wanted and asked how the French could be justified in carrying out nuclear tests.
The French Ambassador's response which was invited by Mr Bolger was as follows:
The French Government will cease testing and close down the Mururoa facilities after this series of tests. Mr Bolger at this point commented that there is no sense in going ahead with the other eight proposed tests and continued questioning the ambassador. Bolger insisted that a deterrent is futile unless the weapons are going to be used at some stage. It was suggested that there may be less then the eight tests originally planned but there was no assurance made of this.
In response to questioning about why the French ambassador had not been sent home which is perceived by many to be a strong message to the French nation, Mr Bolger responded that we still want diplomatic relations in France. He commented that was why he had called the French Ambassador to him to convey the strongest possible message to the French Government through him. He said that expelling the French Ambassador would not assist in getting the message to the French people.
Mr Bolger commented that he is going to print an article in Le Monde today(6 September)attempting to persuade world leaders and others to openly condemn the tests.
Mr Bolger recalled the NZ ambassador back home to be available for consultations. Mr.Bolger also stated his hope that the atoll will be closed down so the French cannot test in the future, as they will never test on mainland France. He mentioned that Jacques Cousteau is opposed to the testing which highlights the fact that the French are annoying their own citizens as well as the rest of the world. Mr Bolger hopes that worldwide pressure is what is causing President Chirac to say that the French will have fewer tests and says that he hopes they will have no more than one.
In response to the question "Why have a test ban when France is going to do computer simulated test anyway", Mr Bolger said that the Comprehensive Test Ban is to stop the environmental risk of testing but the aim must be to pursue the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons. He commented that this needs to be done as a world community or else the five main nuclear powers at the moment would not remain the only five. Mr Bolger said that it was the height of arrogance for five countries to say "we have nuclear weapons but no one else can have nuclear weapons". He commented that this arrogance would not be able to be sustained and endure as the non-nuclear world will continue to put pressure on nuclear powers for the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. If this does not happen then inevitably other major powers will want to get nuclear weapons for the same reason as France--defensive purposes!?!.
Mr Bolger then brought up the issue of North Korea and talked about how only a few months ago there was almost a serious confrontation on the Korean Peninsula over the prospect of North Korea developing nuclear weapons. The world led by the United States moved heaven and earth to prevent that.
Mr Bolger stated that the French military in Papeete have agreed that they will make enquiries about the procedures at the arrest of the people on the two Greenpeace ships.
Mr Bolger finished up his interviews by stating that New Zealand has been a major leader in the world on this issue and that evidence of this is the world press' enquiries for him to appear on the news and explain New Zealand's and the world's anti nuclear position.
World Court Project-
The New Zealand government officially decided to re-open its case against the French on August 29 after conducting multi-party talks.New Zealand's ex-Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has been nominated to be New Zealand's representative on the Court of Justice's Judiciary panel.Officials have been asked to urgently prepare an environmental impact assessment report to support the case. The French government has been officially notified. It is hoped the Court will issue an injunction to stop the tests as they did with atmospheric testing in 1973. The government has gone ahead despite lacking total support from Australia (although this is growing due to hardening of protest by Australians against the French), possible trade backlash from the French or a rebuff from the Court. The case is also being supported by the Soloman Islands, and Western Samoa.Greenpeace has called on Japan, as well as European and South American states to join the case. The International Court of Justice has a preliminary meeting in The Hague on 30 August to discuss procedural matters relating to New Zealand's case against French testing. The French government has said that they would not go to court as all parties need to agree on the case before it can proceed under the ICJ guidelines. As it is New Zealands contention they are re-opening an existing case they believe the French are incorrect and they have a case to answer. New Zealand asked the court to rule the tests unlawful until France does an internationally acceptable environment impact assessment. "Unless this assessment establishes that the tests will not give rise, directly or indirectly to radio- active contamination of the marine environment., the rights under international law of New Zealand as well as the right of other states, will be violated ".
It should be noted that the French plan to conduct 7-8 tests by May next year before their stated intention of signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva. If the French start testing before any ruling is made this is still a legitimate way for political pressure to be applied to the French and stop the French conducting further tests. It should also be noted that the question of the legality of nuclear deterrance is being put before the Court in a separate case on October 30.
World Court Update
The International Court of Justice is the main judicial organ of the United Nations. It acts as a world court, settling disputes between states in accordance with international law. New Zealand, backed by Australia and other states in the region, is seeking to invoke a clause of the 1974 ruling which provides for a review if there is a change in the circumstances on which the court based its original decision. A new case would not succeed because France withhdrew its recognition of the court's jurisdiction in 1974. In an interim judgment in 1973 the court ordered France not to conduct any nuclear tests causing radio-active fallout on Australia or New Zealand.
In 1974 it ruled that a final decision on the merits of the case was no longer necessary as France had announced it would not carry out any further atmospheric tests after 1974. New Zealand is now arguing that its case was not restricted to atmospheric testing.
New Zealand has urged the World Court to reopen its 1973-74 case against French nuclear testing in the hope it may help to ease the tensions that have led to rioting in Tahiti. Attorney General Paul East said the scenes of violence were a clear expression of the depth of feeling against the resumption of tests.
"This region depends deeply upon the oceans. It is the collective wish of alll nations in the region to take concrete steps to protect the marine environment." he said.
East said swift action was vital as French nuclear tests might already have caused irrevocable damage to the fragile marine environment around Mururoa.
"What France has already done to the two atolls may cumulatively have so weakened their structures that future tests may...lead to a substantial escape of radioactive material."
Mr East said there were three developments since the 1974 judgment behind New Zealand's latest application:
- New Evidence about the cumulative effect of underground testing.
- The 1986 Noumea Convention on the protection of the Pacific environment requiring France to cease testing at least until an environment assessment report has been conducted.
- New developments in international law, particularly the precautionary principle, placing the onus on France to show that testing was safe.
France, having boycotted the court during the 1973-4 case, is appearing for the first time at a public hearing to discuss the issue. In comments to reporters, the head of the French delegation, Marc de Brichambaut, has accused New Zealand delegation of presenting political rather than legal arguments and of pandering to the media. "Our New Zealand friends are using this preliminary discussion which is of a technical nature to try to present political issues. Mr East is speaking to the New Zealand television cameras not to the court," he said.
The present preliminary hearings will determine whether the conditions have been met for a review of the 1974 ruling and the court's decision is expected in the next few weeks.
- Latest opinion polls show 98% opposed to the tests and 58% thought the government should do more.
- A resolution combining the WCP and nuclear testing issues is being drafted by politicians and NGOs to present at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland in November. The lack of British support in opposing France's stand should be addressed at this forum.
- The peace flotilla at Mururoa now numbers 18 and has been joined by the navy ocean research vessel the Tui. Debate is growing as to the Tui's role and whether it is being too eager to supply the French naval presence with information.
- On 2 September French commandoes under orders from the French Government boarded the Greenpeace vessels, M.V.Greenpeace and the Rainbow Warrior 2 and took all crew and passengers into custody. The M.V.Greenpece at the time of boarding was in international waters and outside the the French-imposed 12 mile exclusion zone enforced around Mururoa Atoll. The French claim that the helicopter from the M.V.Greenpeace had flown over French airspace thereby warranting their intervention. Greenpeace has counter-claimed that the helicopter is registered separately. This would therefore make the French action one of 'piracy' as defined under international law. Seven New Zealanders are among those taken by the French. This action also follows French noises that nuclear testing would begin on September 1. Although this has not yet occurred their latest move hints that they may be about to begin testing. Expect immediate action to take place should this occur throughout New Zealand and Australia.
- China conducted a nuclear test on August 17. This development like the imminent French tests will harm negotiations of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. China plans more tests this year and in 1996 before committing itself to a CTBT. Beijing claims it needs more tests because it lags behind the other `nuclear powers' testing programmes.
- On 15 August President Clinton over-ruled Pentagons wish for 500 kiloton underground testing. This would have allowed for the design of new nuclear weapons. World pressure and possible potest were confirmed causes for this policy decision. The Exon Amendment Vote-is due September 5 within the U.S. Congress. This amendment to the 1996 Defence Authorisation Bill would eliminate an authorisation for $50 million to prepare for `hydronuclear' testing at the Nevada test site. The amendment argues that these tests are unnecessary and would undermine any test ban treaty. Defeat of this amendment would be a provocative signal that the U.S. is not willing to end all testing and would undermine Clinton's stated support for a `zero-yield'CTB.
- It is still worth remembering that the U.S., Great Britain and Russia are working towards and advocating the continued reliance on, laboratory testing of their nuclear arsenals in the post-CTBT era. Instead of working towards a mutual political commitment to eliminate any reliance on nuclear weapons all super powers are still intent on striving for qualitative improvements in their nuclear stockpiles.Further evidence of this is that despite the U.S stated intention to pursue a true `zero yield' CTBT, it has announced certain conditions or "safeguards" attached to this policy. These `safeguards' include endorsement of the `Science Based Stockpile Stewardship' program which has been proposed to ensure`confidence' in the `safety' and `reliability' of US nuclear weapons for the indefinate future. This program includes plans to build a new generation of huge, very expensive, technologically sophisticated, laboratory testing facilities and superfast, super- computers designed to build new nuclear weapons, as well as to rebuild or replace weapons in the existing stockpile. This program is fundamentally at odds with public commitments made in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Having made progress in driving testing from the atmosphere, and underground sites to the laboratory, the underlying philosophy of the superpowers remains-that building `bigger',`better' nuclear weapons is justifiable in the name of national defence. It is this fallacy that must be continually opposed by the international nuclear disarmament movement.