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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France, Undaunted, Detonates No. 2

PARIS -- The French government was unruffled Monday after the second, and so far the biggest, blast in its new series of South Pacific nuclear weapons tests whipped up a fresh wave of global outrage.


Prime Minister Alain Jupp? would only repeat that the tests were harmless to the environment and would be the last before France signed a global nuclear weapons test ban.


"We are continuing our testing campaign in the conditions and within the limits set by the president of the republic," he said in terse comments to reporters.


In contrast to a media blitz after last month's first test, the Defense Ministry added nothing to a four-line statement announcing the blast had been carried out at Fangataufa atoll at 11:30 p.m. GMT on Sunday.


The explosion, the equivalent of just under 110 kilotons of TNT -- six times the size of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima 50 years ago -- was probably the biggest of its new campaign.


Military experts said the blast, much larger than the first test Sept. 5, was probably aimed at testing the 150-kiloton TN-75 warhead equipping the latest generation of nuclear submarines.


President Jacques Chirac has said France needs between six and eight tests to validate a new warhead and trigger and acquire the capacity to simulate tests on computer before signing a "true zero" global ban on all nuclear explosions.


The fiercest condemnation Monday came from Pacific Rim nations Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The International Court of Justice in the Hague last month rejected a bid by New Zealand to have the tests banned.


The United States, another nuclear power, also criticized the test, calling it regrettable.


"The campaign is sadly going on amid the lamentation of the international community," France's main opposition Socialist Party said, calling Chirac a prisoner of the military-industrial lobby and requesting an end to testing.


In Tahiti, 1,200 kilometers west of the two atolls, there were fears that the latest test would spark a repeat of riots that erupted after last month's blast. But the capital Papeete was quiet as heavy police reinforcements patrolled it.


After coming under fire before the first explosion, the government had stepped up efforts to explain Chirac's decision to break the three-year moratorium on testing and flew reporters and cameramen to the test site for instant briefings. Chirac held out the possibility of carrying out just six tests rather than the eight initially planned and hinted they would end well ahead of the original target of May 31, 1996.


The Gaullist president also raised the prospect of extending France's nuclear umbrella over Europe and let EU experts check security at the test sites.


The environmental campaign group Greenpeace dubbed the test an "act of cowardice" and urged governments to isolate Paris. The group has spearheaded protests and broken an exclusion zone around the main testing site. It called the seizure of its ship Manutea in international waters near the test site hours before the blast an "unlawful act of piracy."