Paris set to resume nuclear tests

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FRANCE is likely to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific before the end of the year, breaking a moratorium on testing observed by the original five nuclear weapons states, according to a study published today. China had been expected to be the first to break the moratorium.

Such an action, which has implications for negotiations about a comprehensive test ban treaty, would be at variance with other aspects of French security policy, which has increasingly fallen into line with international pressures.

There is immense pressure for France to resume testing. Unlike other official nuclear weapons states, France was developing a range of new warheads when the then prime minister, Pierre Beregovoy, announced the suspension of French nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific on 7 April 1992. These were the M-45 and M-5 missile warheads for submarine-launched missiles and that for the ASLP (Air-Sol de Longue Portee) long-range ground-to-air missile which has been of some interest to the British government.

The French admit they do not have the same computer simulation techniques as the Americans, and had not tested for a year when the ban was suddenly imposed by President Mitterrand, to the chagrin of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

The five 'official' nuclear states - US, Russia, China, Britain and France - are observing the informal moratorium as a step to a comprehensive test ban treaty in 1996. Israel is a 'nuclear opaque state' - it has weapons but this is not officially acknowledged, while Iraq is some way down the road to developing nuclear weapons and South Africa admitted to building six, later destroyed. Ironically, the 'official' nuclear powers have had to test to ensure the safety of their stockpiles, whereas those developing nuclear weapons covertly do not have to do so.

The report, by Dr Shaun Gregory, of the University of Bradford's Department of Peace Studies, notes that on 15 July this year the French set up a seven-strong top level team to assess whether the moratorium was damaging the credibility of the French nuclear deterrent.