Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia

D12

5 March 1996

Mururoa And Fangataufa Test Site Study

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has noted the announcement in Vienna on 1 March of the agreement between France and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct a study of the radiological situation at the French nuclear testing sites at Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls.

Australia has consistently called on France to acknowledge the legitimacy of concerns of the countries of the South Pacific about the potential adverse environmental and health effects of French nuclear testing in a fragile maritime environment.

France's invitation to the IAEA to conduct the study is in keeping with a demand put by South Pacific Environment Ministers after a meeting hosted and initiated by Australia in August 1995.

The meeting called for France to provide access to all French scientific data and testing sites to enable an independent and comprehensive assessment of the effects of nuclear testing.

France's agreement to an independent, international scientific assessment of its nuclear testing sites could also be seen as a first step towards responding to the call by South Pacific nations for France to accept full and exclusive responsibility for any adverse effects from French testing on the South Pacific environment and people.

Last year the IAEA General Conference passed a resolution calling on all States concerned to fulfil their responsibilities in ensuring that sites where nuclear tests have been conducted are monitored scrupulously to avoid adverse impacts on health, safety and the environment. While this study is a sign that France intends to fulfil its responsibilities, the progress of the IAEA study and French action will need to be monitored closely to ensure a full and creditable outcome.

The study will be organised by the IAEA under the guidance and direction of an International Advisory Committee of independent scientific experts, including scientists from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

The announcement of the study followed closely on President Chirac' s announcement on 22 February that France will permanently close its nuclear testing sites in the Pacific. This announcement, together with President Chirac's promise to sign the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty and the announcement of the radiological study, are indications that France is making serious efforts to rebuild its relations with South Pacific nations.

The net result could be an end to nuclear testing in a region which has endured atmospheric and underground nuclear testing almost from the beginning of the nuclear era.