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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz