Going Out with a Bang; February 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Zorpette; 1 Page(s)
When the French government resumed testing nuclear weapons last September below the South Pacific atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, it provoked an international uproar of surprising intensity. Attempting to quell it, French officials reduced the number of planned tests from eight to six and portrayed most of them as a necessary preliminary step to the country¿s participation in a worldwide ban on testing, which negotiators hope to implement by the end of this year. To nuclear experts outside France, however, the official rationale for the tests makes little sense.
By all accounts, one of the tests was to make sure that the TN-75, a new warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, worked well. This test took place on October 1 under Fangataufa. It is the other five tests (of which three had been carried out by mid-December) whose purposes are somewhat murky. According to Daniel LeRoy, counselor for nuclear affairs at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., all these tests are to generate a last burst of data. The information, he says, is necessary to help the country¿s nuclear scientists adapt to a post-cold war world in which trials involving nuclear weaponry are limited to so-called aboveground experiments that do not entail nuclear blasts.