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Transparency on Disarmament : Visit of the former military facilities on the Plateau d’Albion – June 2015

As part of its efforts to promote transparency in the disarmament arena, on June 18th, 2015, France opened up the former military facilities on the Plateau d’Albion to representatives from member-States of the Conference on Disarmament.

In his speech delivered in Istres on February 19th, 2015, President Hollande underscored France’s willingness to pursue its transparency efforts by inviting international experts to visit new sites that no longer contain nuclear weapons, including the Luxeuil airbase, where the weapons storage depots are now empty, and the Plateau d’Albion, where the silos that housed the ground-based component of our deterrent have been completely dismantled.

The participants were able to visit former launch zones and a missile command and firing post converted into a low-noise underground laboratory, an observatory and a restaurant, as well as the base of the 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment of the Foreign Legion. They were able to note the concrete effects of France’s 1996 decision to abandon its ground-based nuclear component.

Galerie anti-souffle de l'ancien Poste de Commandement et de Tir de Rustrel. Crédit : Marie-Gaëlle Robles. Galerie anti-souffle de l'ancien Poste de Commandement et de Tir de Rustrel. Crédit : Marie-Gaëlle Robles.

The ground-based component of the nuclear deterrent was located on the Plateau d’Albion in south-eastern France. The site was chosen in April 1965 because of the low population density and subsoil suitable for anchoring the underground missile silos and withstanding the shock wave in the event of a nuclear attack. Eighteen underground missile silos (launch facilities) and two missile launch control centres were built between 1966 and 1971. The strategic surface-to-surface ballistic missile (SSBM) launch site was placed under the command of the strategic air force.

On 22 February 1996, the French president announced the shutdown and dismantling of the facilities on the Plateau d’Albion. The last missile stages were removed in December 1997, and the last nuclear warhead in February 1998. The dismantling process took two years and ended in 1999. Control of the site was handed to the French foreign legion in the summer of 1999.

The eighteen launch facilities, two instruction areas, two missile launch control centres, and four transmitter facilities were methodically dismantled. A large number of civilian and military personnel were mobilised for the dismantling process. For each launch facility, 35 tonnes of materials were disassembled, representing 3,500 hours worked by personnel and 3,500 kilometres driven by special moving equipment. The nuclear decommissioning of the Plateau d’Albion cost a total of €75 million.
The irreversibly dismantled launch zones have now been converted for civilian uses. They now accommodate photovoltaic power stations, an astronomical observatory, a seismic station, space surveillance radar antennae for Onera, France’s aerospace research centre, and even a restaurant.

Les participants posent sur l'ancienne zone de lancement 1-2, Plateau d'Albion, jeudi 18 juin 2015. Crédit : Marie-Gaëlle RoblesLes participants posent sur l'ancienne zone de lancement 1-2, Plateau d'Albion, jeudi 18 juin 2015. Crédit : Marie-Gaëlle Robles

This visit is France’s latest effort, with the April visit of the Luxeuil airbase, to serve as an example when it comes to transparency, efforts that began with the commitments made by the President in 2008. France was the first nuclear weapons state to open its former facilities for the production of fissile material used in nuclear weapons at Pierrelatte and Marcoule : in 2008 to more than 40 representatives of nations belonging to the Conference on Disarmament, and in 2009 to some 20 nongovernmental experts and 30 French and foreign journalists.

France is committed to transparency efforts between the P5 States and regarding non-nuclear states. France contributes on a national and voluntary basis : it is transparent when it comes to its concrete disarmament measures, its nuclear doctrine and the composition of its nuclear arsenal. In his speech in Istres on 19 February 2015, the French President called on all States with nuclear weapons to make the same effort of transparency and expressed his hope that these visits would “inspire other nuclear powers to organize visits that our experts will be able to attend.” Disarmament efforts are rooted in confidence which is to be built in transparency and reciprocity. It is important for all nuclear powers to move forward in the same direction
Examples of civilian conversion of Albion military facilities

• Laboratoire Souterrain à Bas Bruit (Low-noise underground laboratory) - Rustrel Former Command and Firing Post

Laboratoire Souterrain à Bas Bruit - Ancien Poste de Commandement et de Tir de Rustrel. Crédit : Sandra Le Capitaine. Laboratoire Souterrain à Bas Bruit - Ancien Poste de Commandement et de Tir de Rustrel. Crédit : Sandra Le Capitaine.
The Laboratoire souterrain à bas bruit (LSBB) is the only example of a military facility converted into a civilian research laboratory. Its creation was made possible by the support of the French Air Force, local government bodies, universities and four French research laboratories. The absolute magnetic silence there helps avoid any background noise that could scramble scientific results.

• Observatoire astronomique Sirene (Sirene astronomical observatory) - Former launch site 1-2
Zone de lancement 1-2 du plateau d'Albion reconvertie en observatoire astronomique SIRENE (Silo réhabilité pour nuits étoilées).Zone de lancement 1-2 du plateau d'Albion reconvertie en observatoire astronomique SIRENE (Silo réhabilité pour nuits étoilées).

On land belonging to the municipality of Lagarde d’Apt, the local community of municipalities asked Europe, the Armed Forces, the Regional government and the Department to convert the area into an amateur astronomical observatory managed by the association Sirene.

• Koenig garrison of the 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment of the Foreign Legion - Former airbase 200 – Apt-Saint-Christol

Quartier Maréchal Koenig du 2e régiment étranger de génie de la Légion étrangère - Ancienne base aérienne 200. Crédit : Marie-Gaëlle Robles. Quartier Maréchal Koenig du 2e régiment étranger de génie de la Légion étrangère - Ancienne base aérienne 200. Crédit : Marie-Gaëlle Robles.
Dismantling work lasted two years and was completed in 1999. The transfer of powers to the Foreign Legion took place in summer 1999. The 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment has the main missions of intelligence, direct combat, mobility support, counter-mobility support and deployment assistance.

• Bistrot de Lagarde - Former launch site 1-1
Bistrot de Lagarde – Ancienne zone de lancement 1-1. Crédit : Sandra Le Capitaine.Bistrot de Lagarde – Ancienne zone de lancement 1-1. Crédit : Sandra Le Capitaine.

The municipality of Lagarde-d’Apt funded in 2006 the transformation of the Bâtiment de Surface (surface building) into a gastronomic restaurant.

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