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Weekly Alibi France Joins "Atomic Club"

By Sue Schuurman

28 Years Ago This Week

On Feb. 13, 1960, France successfully exploded a plutonium bomb in the Sahara, thereby joining an exclusive "club" of three nations possessing weapons of mass destruction. In the following excerpt from the Albuquerque Journal, we sense no fear or panic that another nation has nuclear capability but rather a distinct congratulatory tone and even poetic descriptions for the blast itself. Today's "crisis"--the U.N. Security Council trying to prevent Iraq from joining the nuclear club--begs the question: Just what qualifies a particular nation to have the moral right to develop nuclear weapons? And how can the United States assume a moralistic posture with the blood of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on its hands?

"PARIS (UPI)--France, exultant newcomer to the ranks of the world's atomic powers, declared Saturday it will build a striking force of nuclear weapons to assure its 'national independence.'

"The French blast No. 1 appears to have been about equal to the first atomic bombs produced in 1945 by the United States. Their energy was rated as the equivalent of that packed in 20,000 tons of TNT, or 20 kilotrons (sic).

"Hydrogen weapons developed since by the United States, Britain and Russia are far more powerful. The United States has tested hydrogen explosives considered equal to 15 to 17 megatons, or 15 to 17 million tons of TNT.

"The French blast was the world's first since the Big Three nuclear powers halted proving ground experiments in the fall of 1958 in preparation for their Geneva talks on banning further tests.

"Touched off atop a 300-foot steel tower at dawn, the explosion lighted the desert and paled the full moon still visible in the morning sky. A mushroom cloud soared up in a wild mixture of colors--blinding white, violet and rose.

"French officials said first indications were that there was no radioactive fallout in inhabited Sahara regions. They said weather conditions for the test were ideal--almost dead still near the earth's surface, with winds of 96 miles an hour from 10,000 feet upward for quick dispersal of high altitude radioactivity. ...

"Pierre Messmer, French defense minister, told a news conference:

"' ... We will continue to work to give France a striking force of nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them so that the army can accomplish its mission of assuring national independence.'

"By official admission France spent about five years developing the bomb that wins it membership in the atomic club."

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