The Mururoa rocks are blast proof. This is the latest from the French front. The French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), is making a valiant bid to convince the world that holding nuclear tests in the South Pacific - that has set the entire planet aflame - was not such an evil deed after all. It has come up with the information that the coral atolls where they are carrying out the tests are stable and will not leak radioactive matter.

After an underground test, 98 per cent of the radioactive elements are trapped in the melted rocks. Only a few isotopes such as tritium appear in underground water which circulate through the volcanic rock of the atoll. But the commission says these bind to the rock, reducing the likelihood that they will escape into the sea.

Yves Caristan, a geophysicist at the CEA and his colleagues have, however, failed to convince their counterparts in Australia. The scientific community in this nation are livid because the French authorities refused them access to the site before they launched the tests. They are convinced that the atolls are unsuitable as repositories of nuclear waste. Independent groups of researchers monitoring radioactivity in the environment have told France that the only way to prove that the atolls are not leaking is to allow them to take samples. And since this is being steadfastly blocked, none of the other data are acceptable to them.

And so the debate continues. Meanwhile, neutral observers like Christopher Paine of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington DC, art of the opinion that while the "environmental case" against the tests is .overblown", the tests by themselves are absolutely unnecessary. "There is little that the French can learn in this short series of tests that will affect the current state of their arsenal," he comments.

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