US backs end to nuclear testing Clinton backs end to nuclear tests US backs zero-test nuclear treaty

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Overruling his Pentagon advisers, President Bill Clinton has endorsed a permanent end to nuclear weapons testing and promised a drive to complete a comprehensive "zero test" treaty in Geneva next year.

Making his announcement yesterday, Mr Clinton called the decision a "historic milestone in efforts to reduce the nuclear threat and build a safer world." It follows a similar move by France, which on Thursday also embraced a total ban on testing once its impending and bitterly contested series of blasts in the Mururoa atoll has been carried out.

In making his move, the President rejected a Pentagon request to conduct larger nuclear explosions with yields equivalent to 500 tonnes of TNT to make sure the US stockpile of weapons remained safe. He also ended Washington's support for miniaturised hydro-nuclear blasts.

Thus ends months of fierce debate within the US defence establishment on the merits of continued tests, which seems to have been decided by an experts' report this week to the Energy Department that "device problems " which had cropped up in the past had been resolved, and that weapons in the existing arsenal were secure and reliable. Their safety could be maintained by computer simulations, said the report. Even so, Mr Clinton offered what he called "concrete safeguards" to satisfy his critics.

n Paris (Reuter) - France said it would invite independent experts to check that nuclear blasts cause no environmental damage to the Mururoa test site - but only after completing its planned tests.