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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 55, March 2001

New Zealand Concern over Former French Test Site

On March 1, the France Soir newspaper quoted an unnamed senior French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) official expressing concern over the geological condition of the Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific, the location of the country's former underground nuclear test site. According to the official: "We are observing an acceleration of the natural, seaward progression of certain perimeter areas in the northeastern zone, as well as compression of the surface. ... [T]here has definitely been a weakening of the atoll rock that has been amplified by the nuclear tests." France conducted its last test at the site in 19996. In all, between 1966-96, 178 tests - 137 of them underground - were conducted at Mururoa and the nearby atoll of Fangataufa. Responding to the report, the New Zealand Foreign Ministry issued the following statement (March 1):

"A French admission of damage to Mururoa atoll brings it in line with the New Zealand concerns first expressed by the Kirk Government in 1973... However, the admission offers no new information to New Zealand. ... 'We have known there has been damage to the atoll since the 1998 report by the International Advisory Committee,' says [Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control] Matt Robson. ... The International Geomechanical Commission added further strength to that assessment in the middle of 1999, when it reported a study on structural and hydrological impacts of underground nuclear tests. 'The reports found plutonium 'hot spots' and a risk of collapse of part of the atolls, potentially resulting in small tidal waves. Following these reports, the French set up ongoing monitoring,' says Matt Robson. 'New Zealand does not physically monitor Mururoa or Fangataufa, but through our posts in Paris and Noumea we keep a close watch on any developments. We are in ongoing contact with France regarding its long-term monitoring programmes.'"

Reports: France to be quizzed on nuclear test site damage, South China Morning Post, March 1; Nuclear atoll 'near collapse', New Zealand Herald, March 1; French Mururoa admission justifies NZ concerns, New Zealand Foreign Ministry Statement, March 1.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.