France Denies Nuclear Test Site Is Dangerously Cracked
PARIS (AP) _ A report that a South Pacific island used for France’s nuclear tests is full of cracks put the government back on the defensive Wednesday over its underground testing program.
The Defense Ministry dismissed the report as ``trivial and whimsical,″ and said it has the situation at Mururoa Atoll under ``perfect scientific and ecological control.″
The Paris newspaper Le Monde reported Tuesday that a 1980 French army map shows that years of nuclear pounding had cracked the atoll, the site of a 20-kiloton nuclear test blast on Sept. 5.
Some scientists have warned that the atoll could break open under the force of continued test blasts or a natural disaster, releasing radioactivity and poisoning an area known for its coral reefs and crystal waters.
Gen. Raymond Germanos told reporters Wednesday that the newspaper report was false. He accused the environmental group Greenpeace of twisting decade-old unofficial data about the atoll, and said the map misplaced key features of the island and the test facility.
In Papeete, Tahiti, where opposition to the nuclear tests has been at its fiercest, about 60 people rallied outside the Territorial Assembly on Tuesday.
``We have seen all those cracks, all those fissures,″ said Oscar Temaru, leader of the French territory’s main pro-independence party.
``We have lost some of our friends because they eat the contaminated fish caught in the atoll″ about 750 miles southeast of Tahiti, he told Associated Press Television.
France plans to conduct up to eight underground nuclear tests to check its nuclear arsenal and develop computer simulation that will make future detonations unnecessary. President Jacques Chirac has promised to then sign a global test ban treaty.
But France has angered many of its European neighbors and the nations of the South Pacific by breaking a three-year international testing moratorium.
France conducted its first test Sept. 5 beneath Mururoa Atoll, and on Sunday it set off a blast about five times stronger beneath nearby Fangataufa Atoll.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Lynette Thorstensen said the map of the cracks at Mururoa seriously eroded France’s claims that it had made a thorough scientific study to determine if there were any safety problems at the atolls.
Le Monde said the map, drawn in 1980 before about 100 more tests were conducted, showed that ``large cracks developed in the structure of the atoll’s volcano.″
A diagram that appeared with the article showed several fissures several miles long, as deep as 28,000 feet and up to 11 1/2 feet wide. No information was given about when or how quickly the cracks developed.
France conducts its nuclear tests in tunnels up to six feet in diameter and about 3,000 feet beneath the sea bed.
Le Monde said Wednesday it stood by its story and that military sources confirmed the existence of the cracks.
But Germanos, the general, insisted that some fissures were much smaller than the map shows and others ``don’t exist at all.″
Former Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement confirmed Wednesday that France has known about the cracks since 1980, although he insisted the overall condition of the atoll had not worsened since.