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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power