24 August 1968 - French 'Canopus' test
On 24 August 1968, France conducted the 'Canopus' nuclear test, the country’s first multi-stage thermonuclear test, at Fangataufa atoll in the South Pacific Ocean. It was the fifth nation after the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and China to cross the thermonuclear threshold.
'Canopus' was also France’s highest yielding test. With a 2.6 megaton yield, its explosive power was 200 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. The device weighed three tons and was suspended from a balloon at 520 metres. The fallout caused by this test contaminated large parts of Fangataufa atoll, leaving it off-limits for humans for six years, also affecting neighbouring atolls.
France conducted a total of 210 nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara and the French Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean between 1960 and 1996. France, together with China, is not party to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, which bans nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, under water and outer space but not underground.
Some 150,000 military and civilian personnel were involved in the French nuclear testing programme. Together with residents living near the test sites in the Sahara and in French Polynesia, many have sought compensation for the effects of radiation. The French government announced in 2009 that it had created a €10 million compensation fund for victims of its testing programme. Read more on the effects of France’s nuclear testing programme.
France began its last series of nuclear tests in the South Pacific in 1995, breaking a three year moratorium and triggering international protests and the boycott of French goods. It conducted its final nuclear test on 27 January 1996 and then permanently dismantled its nuclear test sites – the only nuclear weapon State that has done so to date.
Later on that year, France signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) on 24 September 1996, the day it opened for signature, subsequently ratifying on 6 April 1998. The country currently hosts 13 of the International Monitoring System’s facilities, many of them in overseas departments. A further two stations are planned while two are already under construction.
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