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Sydney - Fourteen South Pacific countries condemned the Chinese explosion

Sydney - Fourteen South Pacific countries condemned the Chinese explosion and challenged the French president, Jacques Chirac, to call off the French nuclear testing, writes Robert Milliken.

At a meeting in Brisbane, the environment ministers of the South Pacific Forum nations called for an immediate end to all nuclear testing, and demanded that France release secret scientific data on the environmental impact of its tests at Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls over the past 30 years.

The political campaign suffered a tactical setback in the form of a scientific report, released at the meeting on Wednesday, which claimed that the French tests were likely to pose little risk to human health. Commissioned from 18 Australian scientists by the Australian government, as this year's forum chairman, the report was seized upon by the French government to support its claim that the Pacific countries did not know what they were talking about.

The report said that in a worst-case scenario, radioactive contamination could leak from under the atoll within 25 years, or in 750 years at best.

Either way, it suggested that the risk would be greatest for those living and working on the atoll and insignificant for people living elsewhere in the Pacific.