France Joins the Club

Shortly after the end of World War II, France also embarked on a nuclear-weapons program. However, due to internal political issues, the program did not really begin until the late 1950s. Under Charles de Gaulle leadership, France's independent force de frappe (strike force) came into being

The first French nuclear test, "Gerboise Bleue," (Blue Gerbil) was detonated on February 13, 1960 at Reggane in Algeria atop a 345 foot tower. This device used plutonium and had a notably high yield of 60-70 kilotons. No other nuclear power has ever detonated such a powerful device as its first test.

Testing in Algeria at Reggane and In Ecker continued until 1966, three-and-a-half years after Algeria had gained independence. France's testing program then moved to the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls in the South Pacific.

Their first thermonuclear device was tested above Fangataufa Atoll in the South Pacific on August 24, 1968. It produced a yield of 2.6 megatons and heavily contaminated the atoll, leaving it off-limits to humans for six years.

French nuclear test at Mururoa Atoll
French nuclear test, Licorne, at Mururoa Atoll

France continued atmospheric testing there until 1974. In 1995, France resumed nuclear testing under global protest. However, France has now joined the other major nuclear powers in ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Until recently, the French nuclear arsenal was deployed on a triad of air-, sea-, and ground-based forces. In 1996, it was announced that the ground-based component would be eliminated. Although this reduction is welcome, France is continuing to modernize its remaining nuclear forces, and they remain the world's third most-powerful nuclear nation.