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1996: France halts nuclear testing

The French President, Jacques Chirac, has said France will no longer test nuclear weapons.

The announcement comes a day after France exploded its sixth and biggest nuclear device in the South Pacific.

There have been international protests including boycotts of French products since Mr Chirac announced the resumption of testing last June.

In a live broadcast to the nation, Mr Chirac said the tests mean that "the safety of our country and of our children is assured."

Early end

He has stopped the planned programme of eight tests early in the face of the outcry at home and abroad.

"I know the decision I made last June may have provoked, in France and abroad, anxiety and emotion," he said. "But in an ever-dangerous world, [nuclear weapons] act as a weapon of dissuasion, a weapon in the service of peace."

France will now sign an agreement for a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific this year, as well as the international Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which unconditionally ends all future tests.

However, critics of the test programme believe France has damaged the future of the test ban treaty by encouraging nations like India, Pakistan and China to take a harder line.

Mr Chirac's popularity ratings have fallen to an all-time low for a new president since he announced his intention to reverse the three-year moratorium on testing established by his predecessor, Francois Mitterrand.

Clashes

During the tests at Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls, French naval vessels clashed with Greenpeace campaigners, confiscating their equipment and arresting crew members.

As well as being unpopular at home, the nuclear tests have brought French relations with several other countries to an all-time low.

Protests in Australia, New Zealand and other South Pacific countries have been particularly vehement, sometimes ending in violence, and Japan and several European countries have also objected strongly.

Only Britain has spoken out in defence of France's right to carry out the explosions.

The tests made France the only country apart from China to test weapons of mass destruction since 1992.

Yesterday's test, carried out at Fangataufa atoll, was equivalent to approximately 120,000 tonnes of conventional explosives, or six times the force of the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.

In Context
Paris agreed to a 10-year compensation package for French Polynesia to rectify some of the damage caused by the programme of nuclear testing.

In 1995 France asked the UN's nuclear watchdog to measure radiation around the atolls; the study concluded that the levels posed no threat.

In 1999 Paris admitted that fractures had been discovered in the coral cone at the sites.

The atolls continue to be monitored.

The UN's Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, drawn up in response to the outrage caused by the French testing programme, has still not come into force.

Those countries who signed the treaty but have failed to ratify it include China, Israel and the USA.

India and Pakistan have not signed the treaty: nor has North Korea.

Two years after France ended its nuclear tests, India and Pakistan confirmed themselves as nuclear powers by carrying out tit-for-tat nuclear tests.

North Korea announced in 2002 that it was reactivating a nuclear reactor and expelling international nuclear inspectors. It has also declared itself a nuclear power.

Then in 2006 Iran provoked international consternation by breaking UN seals on nuclear research facilities to resume uranium enrichment. Iran says it is doing so for peaceful purposes: the international community, however, fears it is working towards developing nuclear weapons.


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