French scientists condemn atom tests

June 30, 1995

The decision by French president Jacques Chirac to resume nuclear testing has triggered protests from French researchers, backed by scientists around the world.

Scientists at the Orsay University, south of Paris have launched a petition demanding a reversal of the decision to carry out eight more tests.

Researchers were among thousands of protesters who demonstrated in Paris last week. The Orsay physicists are also gathering funds to publish full-page protests in the French press.

Another march is being organised for July 2, with the support of several scientists' organisations.

The leading research union, the Syndicat National des Chercheurs Scientifiques, said: "The resumption of testing and expenditure on tests, together with cutbacks in civil research and education spending, can only weaken France."

The use of scientific arguments, given by what the objectors term a shadowy committee of experts, to justify the tests has particularly enraged the research community.

Scientists argue that computer simulations can take the place of the tests. However, few researchers expect the make up of the committee of experts, or the documents it based its advice on, to be given military clearance to go public.

"One must not dress up a political choice in scientific garb," said Monique Sene, physicist and chair of an association of scientists for information on nuclear energy. "Equations are not the issue, the tests are not necessary."

Sene, a veteran campaigner against France's nuclear energy policy and its handling of nuclear waste and safety issues, is delighted that even physicists at the Commission a l'energie atomique (CEA) have opposed the resumption of testing.

Michel Cribier, a CEA specialist in neutrinos, went on record saying he was "shocked and very unhappy" and that the "CEA backing for the tests is a return to the past when the CEA was connected with the bomb".

The president of the Academie des Sciences, Marianne Grunberg-Manago has also added her voice to the chorus of discontent. The academy's recently-elected first woman president complained that it "had not been consulted on such a serious issue" and said she would follow the matter up in writing.

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