French nuclear program

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Since a French scientist, Henri Becquerel, discovered radioactivity, it is not at all surprising that French nuclear programs can trace back as early as any nation's program. A meeting in the spring of 1939, which included Frederic Joliot-Curie and the managing director of the uranium mines in the then-Belgian Congo, Edgar Sengier, discussed the development of a nuclear weapon. [1]

While the Second World War intervened, France, the nuclear program went on hold, but the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) was formed in 1945. CEA projects did not initially include nuclear weapons.

As it sought greater world independence under Charles de Gaulle, France developed its own nuclear combat capability.

France has a robust civilian nuclear industry and is a world participant in research in nuclear physics.

At the present time, it is a declared power under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It has, however, reduced its nuclear forces, which, at one time, included land-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles, aircraft-launched gravity bombs and air-to-surface missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Arms limitation

France is the sole nuclear power having announced and started the dismantling of its fissile material production facilities.[2]

Until 1967, it assisted with the Israeli nuclear program, having accelerated its assistance in return for Israeli assistance in the 1956 Suez crisis.

Initial weapons programs

Efforts began in 1951. Frederick Joliot-Curie, a Communist, had left the CEA, concerned that France might someday use nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, and was replaced, in April, by Francis Perrin as High Commissioner. In the same year, Felix Gaillard became secretary of state for atomic energy, while the Army established a Committee on Special Armaments.

Interest accelerated after the French defeat at the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu, and Prime Minister of France Pierre Mendes-France ordered studies. Gen. Albert Buchalet was put in charge of a nuclear weapons department in CEA, which received its first bomb funding in 1955. The Suez crisis further intensified French interest.


  1. Jeffrey Richelson (2006), Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea, W.W. Norton, ISBN 9780394053838, pp. 195-196
  2. Weapons of Mass Destruction: World: France: Nuclear Weapons, Globalsecurity