South Pacific waiting for the big blast

On the island of Tahiti yesterday, Polynesians, French gendarmes and international tourists crowding the streets and bars of the little town of Papeete were united in asking the same question: when will the bomb go off?

That is the question occupying everyone's minds, as the French finalise preparations for the resumption of nuclear testing. The decision by President Jacques Chirac to order eight nuclear tests (now possibly reduced to seven) in French Polynesia between September and May has ignited opposition throughout the Pacific, but now that the moment is looming after more than two months of noisy demonstrations and boycotts, there is nothing left to do but guess and sift through the rumours.

Three different versions of when the momentous first test will take place are circulating. Version one says it will be tomorrow, the last day of August. Because Polynesia is some 11 hours behind Europe, this argument holds that the test must happen then because to leave it any later would mean breaking into the weekend at military headquarters in France. Versions two and three maintain that it will be on Friday, in order to jump ahead of a big anti-nuclear demonstration planned in Papeete on Saturday. That demonstration began yesterday, as villagers and rural Polynesians joined a five-day march around Tahiti.

Whatever happens will take place about 620 miles south of here at the test sites of Mururoa and Fangataufa, two of the most remote atolls in French Polynesia, surrounded by tight French military security. An international protest fleet of about 25 vessels was sailing towards the sites yesterday hoping to disrupt the tests by breaching the 12-mile military zone around Mururoa.

From Mururoa, General Paul Vericel, the commander of the French nuclear testing sites in the South Pacific, yesterday ended any last-minute hopes that France might call off the tests when he said that final preparations were under way. He nominated 1 September as the start of the test programme, but would not say when the first or later tests would happen. The commander said the tests would go ahead regardless of whether protest vessels were in the vicinity and he hoped their occupants would not do anything to put themselves at risk.

Strategists on Rainbow Warrior 11 and Greenpeace, two of the three Greenpeace vessels in the flotilla, yesterday shuttled between their ships at sea in rubber dinghies to plan their moves as they approach Mururoa. A French navy helicopter flew over, blocking attempts to fly a Greenpeace aircraft to the test area. Triptych, one of 14 New Zealand vessels, radioed that it was 80 miles from Mururoa and expected to reach the 12-mile zone at dawn yesterday, Polynesian time. Tucker Thompson, another New Zealand ship, said it was three days out from Mururoa.

The Wellington Government has sent HMNZS Tui, a naval research ship, to support the New Zealand sailors. But Tony Atkinson, the co-ordinator of the New Zealand flotilla, yesterday criticised the role of the Tui to warn other ships entering French territorial waters. "The notion of the Tui assisting us by warning us is quite ludicrous," he said. "This does not seem the right time for niceties with the French navy. They have declared atomic warfare on the Pacific, bombed and sunk and killed people who wish for peace."

Gordon Bilney, Australia's Minister for Pacific Island Affairs, who will lead an Australian parliamentary delegation to France and seven other European countries next week to lobby against further French testing, said in Sydney yesterday: "What France is doing, in effect, is creating a large underground nuclear waste disposal site in our region far from metropolitan France. Whatever the consequences of this will be, it is the people of the Pacific, not the people of metropolitan France, who will have to live with them."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London