French explode atomic bomb in Sahara Desert

By Anthony Austin  |  February 13 1960
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PARIS -- France exploded its first atomic bomb today in the Sahara Desert to become the world's fourth nuclear power.

Military scientists triggered off the "device" at 7 a.m. (1 a.m. EST) atop a 330-foot tower just south of the oasis of Reggane in the heart of the desolate area known as "the region of total thirst."

President Charles de Gaulle himself announced the successful explosion in a communique issued from his Elysee Palace in Paris 30 minutes later.

He hailed the historic event as a significant contribution to the defense potential of not only France but to the Western world as well.

And he indicated that France would want a say in the conclusion of any treaty on nuclear disarmament.

Didn't hide happiness

The exact details of the first French bomb were not immediately revealed.

But de Gaulle's communique said the explosion used was plutonium and that the test took place "in conditions of power and security as forecast." Observers interpreted this as bearing out reports from informed sources that the bomb had an explosive power equivalent to about 20,000 tons of TNT or about the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

De Gaulle made no attempt to hide his happiness over the test which he is certain would restore the grandeur of France and give her an equal voice with the other nuclear powers in international conferences.

"Hurrah for France"

While the mushroom-shaped cloud still boiled up from the sands of the desert, he fired off a cable of congratulations to Atomic Energy Minister Pierre Guillaumat.

"Hurrah for France," the cable said. "As of the morning France is stronger and prouder. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you and those who, for France, have pulled off this magnificent success."

De Gaulle's official announcement said the bomb was detonated at Tanezrouft, about 60 miles south of Reggae under perfect weather conditions.

A spokesman at the armed forces ministry said initial observations showed no radioactive fallout "on inhabitated regions."

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