Jeffrey LewisPar TEUTATES!

After further review, the new joint UK-France nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship effort is little less effing baffling than before.

We now have the full text of the Treaty between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the French Republic relating to Joint Radiographic/Hydrodynamics Facilities, and the details are much more clear.

And, as it turns out, the details have something to do with the French comic book character, Asterix.

First, the lawyer stuff.

Before we get to the details in the treaty text, I should note that the United States and France, in 1996, updated their defense cooperation agreement to permit much more detailed sharing of stockpile stewardship information. I was aware of the old agreement — circumvented by the Nixon Administration and updated during the Reagan, as detailed in the late Richard Ullman’s wonderful The Covert French Connection — but not the new one.

Here is how Jeff Smith described the new agreement the Washington Post in 1996:

France and the United States have signed a secret agreement drawing their nuclear weapons scientists into a much closer alliance, so that each nation can help the other maintain its nuclear arsenal after an expected international treaty bans all test explosions, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.

In what officials said was the most novel provision of the agreement, the United States will share with France for the first time a vast amount of computer data drawn from simulated explosions of the atomic bombs at the heart of all modern U.S. warheads. Weapons information of this quality is considered so sensitive it has been shared with only one U.S. ally, Britain.

Washington’s decision to share the data, after more than two years of negotiation with Paris, was described by one diplomatic official as a symbol of the Clinton administration’s enthusiasm for the regime of French President Jacques Chirac. Others said it is also a reflection of Washington’s strong belief that assuring the continued reliability of the French strategic nuclear deterrent is strongly in the U.S. interest.

To avoid stirring public controversy or offending national pride on either side of the Atlantic, however, neither country sought any publicity. The accord was signed June 4 by four senior U.S. and French officials, including Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense Harold Smith and Assistant Secretary of Energy Victor Reis, in a private office building in Rosslyn.

It was pretty obvious to everyone at the time that opened the door for France to use NIF, DARHT and other facilities, as well as freeing the UK to share more data with France.  So, part of why I told Geoff Brumfield that I was “effing baffled” is explained by the fact that I didn’t realize that US-France agreement had been so substantially updated.


Now, where does Asterix come in?

The name of the joint UK-France program is TEUTATES — which is a reference to a Celtic god worshiped in ancient Britain and Gaul.  Clever, no?  Chances are that, if you know Teutates at all, it is with the spelling Toutatis — which the French comic character Asterix uses as “Par Toutatis!” in the same sense one might say “By Jove!”

(There is one other possibility.  Our tiny planet nearly — in the interplanetary sense of “nearly” — got creamed by the asteroid 4179 Toutatis in September 2004.  But it would be unkind to suggest that the project name implies that the Brits and French have sought the last refuge of scoundrels who attempt to justify nuclear weapons research: asteroid diversion.)

I digress.

Project TEUTATES will have two components: TEUTATES ÉPURE, the radiographc/hydrodynamics facility at Valduc in France, and TEUTATES TDC, the Technology Development Center at Aldermaston.  After talking to some colleagues, and reading the treaty text, I now have some sense of the scope and operation of the two facilities.

1. ÉPURE: The joint radiographic/hydrodynamics facility (Valduc, France)

ÉPURE remains the more interesting of the two facilities, at least to me. The name is not an acronym; An épure is a model from which something is built.  It nicely captures of the simulation mission of the radiographic/hydrodynamics facility.  France will move the “radiographic machine” (the accelerator, etc.) from AIRIX in Moronvilliers to Valduc, near Dijon, in 2014.  Together, the UK and France will install a second axis in 2019 and a third in 2022.

If the legal environment for US-France nuclear cooperation (and, hence UK-France cooperation) is much more permissive than I realized, the UK and France will nevertheless make heroic efforts to maintain information barriers.  I joked to Geoff Brumfield that “Unless you say ‘On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only French are allowed in the building, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only Brits and we all take Sunday off to have a party,’ I don’t know how you don’t share information.”

That turns out not to be far from the truth –Article 5 of the treaty text provides for physically separate areas within the facility manned solely by national personnel (ie, only Brits in the UK area) and permits each side to undertake nuclear weapons work “without scrutiny” of the other.  No word on whether the Brits insisted their half of the cafeteria carry only truly awful food. Scotch Egg anyone?

2. Technology Development Center (Aldermaston, UK)

The UK and France will also stand up a “Technology Development Center” or TDC at Aldermaston that will, as the name suggests, allow France and the UK to jointly develop technologies and systems for the site at Valduc.  No work with fissile material will be done at this site.

This, by the way, is unintentional comedy just waiting to happen.  For those of you who have visited AWE, can you imagine what happens when a bunch of French scientists drop by the Soldier’s Return and ask for the wine list? I want to see that scene so badly that I would almost consider moving to Basingstoke.  Almost.  Except, as a taxi driver told the Mighty Sheff and me, Basingstoke is a sh*thole.

One thing that jumps out at me is how much of this is simply the UK committing to assist in an expansion of the planned French program — France is paying for all the Phase 1, which they were apparently planning to undertake in any event.

Another thing is that Phase 2 of the construction schedule  provides for construction of a second firing point by 2022 — with a waste processing facility.  ÉPURE needs a waste processing facility because AWE likes to conduct hydrodynamic tests (or what we might call dynamic experiments) with plutonium 242, a non-fissile isotope of plutonium. (This way the implosion is identical to a real nuclear weapon, without the nuclear explosion part.) AWE explained that a waste processing capability was necessary for Project Hydrus because “Radioactive plutonium will be used in some of the tests conducted in the facility, and so radioactively contaminated wastes will be generated …”

Does this mean the French don’t use Pu 242? Perhaps, not.  A cursory look suggests they use depleted uranium. After 2022, who knows?

The US, on the other hand, conducted some tests using Pu 242.  The US also planned to do a small number of dynamic experiments using plutonium at DARHT, but as far as I can tell hasn’t done so. According to the Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task Force, “LANL has not yet received permission to perform dynamic experiments, which it has been seeking for many years.”  The problem is that dynamic experiments involve plutonium, which Jon Medalia makes more clear in his CRS summary of the Task Force Report.

The US has previously used UK facilities for Pu 242 tests when the US regulatory environment proved unwelcoming (see the remarks of Stanley Orman, former AWE Deputy Director at 30:00), which leads me to wonder whether the residents of Dijon might not notice a slight uptick in tourists wearing baseball caps and speaking with flat accents around 2022. Dude, don’t forget to try the mustard.

A Note on Asterix

As some of you know, I have a real book obsession.  When I visited the CEA facilities at Pierlatte and Marcoule, I learned that the nuclear reactor in a Tintin comic, Objectif Lune, was modeled on the G1 reactor at Marcoule.  I made sure to pick up a copy at a bookstore in Aix.

This book — Astérix et les Centrales Nucléaires — caught my attention.  One source suggested it was an unauthorized Asterix comic, but I would love to get a copy of it.  Anybody know anything about it?  Did CEA use Asterix in a campaign?


  1. bradley laing (History)

    First point: the cafateria can afford to hire decent Frenchmen to cook for them. How? Simply agree that the salary of those cooking must match that of the scientists themselves.

    Second point: how many of those French scientists can cook themselves?

    Third Point: stop kidding yourself about the wine. Duty-Free stores in airports sell decent French wines, and simply requiring anyone going home to France for the weekend to pick up a new supply would keep them happy.

    Fourth point: how big a kitchen does a skilled person need to create delicious dishes? They can always rent a house near the base, and use that as a private nuclear fraternity house / breakfast nook.

  2. Guillaume Payre (History)


    I am French and a reader of your blog since 2005 (I worked in a parisian think tank on nuclear proliferation).

    Just a mistake : in French we say “épure” for “drawing” or “design”, not “épuré”. “épuré” is the adjective.

    Because of your questions in the last paragraph, I have had a quick look on French websites about “Astérix et les centrales nucléaires”.

    It is actually a pirate edition of the Astérix’ series.

    “Did CEA use Asterix in a campaign?” No.

    This comics has been edited/printed only in a small quantity but has been translated in Basque language, German and Dutch.

    It has been published by the “Swiss committee against nuclear (energy)” in 1982 just before a “votation” (referendum/plebiscite/ballot question) for or against building nuclear plants in Switzerland. You probably know that Switzerland is a very democratic country where you can vote on almost everything if enough people sign a petition or if enough members of parliament pass/vote a bill requestion the referendum.

    Because the edition is pirate and was not authorized by the copyright holders of Asterix (Goscinny or his children and René Uderzo) it is forbidden to buy it or sell it in France.
    You can nevertheless find a copy in some libraries in Switzerland (at Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne for example).

    I doubt the content of the comics is interesting. It must be anti-nuclear energy propaganda.

    I had the opportunity to have a look on the first page of the comics
    and one cartoon has been inspired by the old Astérix’ comics “Le Domaine des Dieux”/”The Mansions of the Gods” (where Caesar builds a roman colony near the village to absorb it).

    Regards and sorry for my poor English.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Thanks, I fixed the typo.

  3. Guillaume Payre (History)

    Last thing I forgot, sorry : one of the two authors of this pirate comics has the ironic pseudonym of “Plagiarism” (“Plagiat” in French) maybe to assume/undertake the fact that this comics is pirate and to hide the real author.

  4. Anne Bazuin (History)

    Comme il manque de l’argent, il doit cooperate.

    Vos reactions plus serieux s.v.p.

    Anne Bazuin, 14 novembre 2010

  5. conpie (History)

    Jeffrey, i feel sorry to disappoint you. Asterix et les centrales nucleaires has not been drawn/written by anyone at CEA…It was actually made by a swiss anti-nuclear association in the 80’s.
    It looks like someone tried to sell one a few months ago, for something like 30 euros.

  6. shaheen (History)

    What’s this obsession about stockpile stewardship people and cafetaria menus? Those who read The Nuclear Express will remember that the authors insisted (to their own intellectual peril) on drawing important strategic consequences from alleged cafetaria menus in certain testing sites. (To those who did not read the book: not worth it, read the China visit chapter and skip the rest.)

    More seriously, the existence of the 1996 US-French agreement, which built on previous arrangements regarding cooperation on safety and security of warheads, is not secret (there was a press release), and it is not an accurate description to characterize it as “opening the door for France to use NIF, DARHT and other facilities”. What it did include, however, among other things, was an arrangement to cooperate on next-generation laser facilities: the NIF in the United States, the LMJ (Laser Megajoule, inaugurated last month) in France.

    • Jeffrey (History)


      I wouldn’t presume to argue with you, but that’s how Jeff Smith at the Post reported it. Here is the relevant graf:

      “A White House official who helped oversee negotiations on the new accord said that Washington and Paris realized several years ago that they needed to amend the agreement to take account of a test ban by focusing more intensively on maintaining existing weapons while dropping U.S. assistance related to French weapons designs.

      “France was eager to get more extensive access to data drawn from past U.S. nuclear tests because its own test program — which ended in January — has been far less extensive. France detonated its first bomb in 1960, 15 years after the first U.S. explosion, and its entire effort amounted to only a fifth of the 1,054 blasts conducted by the United States.

      “U.S. officials said the principal challenge in crafting the agreement was to work out a way of broadening cooperation without handing over material that others might suspect was helping Paris design new weapons. The solution was to release the classified results of computer simulations that describe the workings of ‘primaries,’ or fission bombs, but not from the ‘secondaries,’ or fusion devices that give modern warheads their massive thermonuclear punch.

      “‘The principal military effects come from the secondary, which determines the yield, weight, geometry and configuration,’ a U.S. bomb designer said. The design of a primary, in contrast, involves less sophisticated technologies that already are well-understood by all nuclear powers.

      “Other topics on which the two nations will share information include responding to nuclear accidents, terrorism, equipment for diagnosing weapons defects, the aging of a gas used by both countries to boost the yield of their bombs and details of the physics of nuclear weapons explosions.

      “The agreement also allows French scientists to gain access to portions of several new high-tech laboratories being constructed by the Energy Department to keep U.S. nuclear weapons research alive after a test ban. One is the $1 billion National Ignition Facility in Livermore, Calif., which will simulate the flow of radiation in a nuclear fireball. Another is a $400 million test center at Los Alamos, N.M., which is to snap high-tech photos of the inner workings of mock weapons.”

  7. Allen Thomson (History)

    >What it did include, however, among other things, was an arrangement to cooperate on next-generation laser facilities: the NIF in the United States, the LMJ (Laser Megajoule, inaugurated last month) in France.

    Perhaps getting a teeny way off the current topic, but could anybody here explain why such laser fusion megafacilities are thought to be worth their expense in terms of researching weapons physics?

    Yes, they could probably lead to greater insights into what goes on in the secondary of bombs — hohlraum engorged with x-rays producing ablative blow-off and implosion of the actual secondary nuclear package — but why is that so important as a practical matter? Don’t present bombs kind of do what is needed, whether we understand the last detail or not?

  8. Nick Russell (History)

    After visiting the old graphite reactor at Oak Ridge, I was thrilled to pick up Destination Moon again and see such a detailed description in one of my favorite childhood books. Creative liberties aside, it really felt like Hergé had gone to a 40s- or 50s-era graphite pile nuclear reactor. (I should also note that I still have an Objectif Lune poster hanging in my room).

    NIF, by the way, is about more than learning about bombs – although certainly that is an important element. For one thing, they hope to develop a process for using the neutrons produced by fusion to get more fission from otherwise spent reactor fuel, which would allow reactors that are both more efficient and safer (since they don’t produce as much waste).

  9. Smith (History)

    Basingstoke is hell’s toilet. Some of the people that I know that live there have a theory that the local population have been affected by the “nuclear testing” done nearby. Pretty funny stuff.

  10. John Olsen (History)

    US cooperation with the French program may be less about helping them than involving them to prevent a collapse of the U.K. weapons infrastructure. Years ago it was crumbling, with brilliant leaders and brain-dead workers.

    By the way, Newbury is a plenty comfortable to stay and had fine restaurants when I was around.

  11. Peter Burt (History)

    Some interesting info here, and thanks for posting this Jeffrey.

    When UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced the UK-French agreement in Parliament, he mentioned that both the UK and France had been co-operating with the US in their nuclear programmes, and that there had been some discussion on formalising a three-way relationship: see

    UK – French discussion on nuclear weapons appears to have been going on for a couple of years at least: see an answer to a Parliamentary question published yesterday: So the Teutatis programme seems to be formalising and taking further co-operation which has already been underway for a while.

    As you say, the treaty between France and the UK states that a hydrodynamics research facility with three radiographic axes will eventually be built. Another recent answer to a Parliamentary question in the UK indicates that the Atomic Weapons Establishment seems to be reviewing some elements of its infrastructure upgrade programme ( I’m guessing that AWE’s own hydrodynamics facility, Hydrus, may well be scaled back so that it is built with only one radiographic axis instead of the three that were originally planned, with the three-axis facility now shared between the UK and France at Valduc.

    Loved the Asterix book! By the way, there is also a spoof Tintin comic book floating around in the UK called ‘Breaking Free’, in which Tintin is a young troublemaker who becomes involved in an industrial dispute. Well worth a read if you can find a copy.

  12. Arrigo (History)

    Can one extrapolate that perhaps the very Frenchy French TN (I never remember the correct acronym for the warheads) might not actually be as purely French as they claim? I can see this being a good reason for the French shutting up about the US-France agreement…

  13. jeannick (History)

    I had the modest privilege in the 70ies of watching a pluton batterie have a readiness exercice
    a theodolite was used to enter the location initial firing position , the warhead ( dummy ) was then bolted in position , while a troop of heavy tanks stood guard
    it took about fifteen minutes to declare “Ready to fire”

    As was explained to me by a French colonel , the official French nuclear doctrine was the use of tactical weapons first , to stop an putative conventional invasion , if this failed the strategic “force de frappe” would be used on the aggressor homeland
    since the pluton missile had all of the grand range of 115 Km , and they were based on French soil one can suppose the warhead would have landed on Russians in Germany .
    Killing two birds with one stone so to speak

  14. MarkoB (History)

    The treaty preamble speaks of maintaining a reliable and safe stockpile “at least cost.” That this is the underlying motivation behind the cooperative effort, the thing that really matters here, is pretty much assumed uncritically. But is it? Is the “sovereign debt crisis” so severe that it requires “cash strapped” governments to come up with something like this? I don’t buy it, and not just because I don’t buy neoclassical economics. There has to be something else going on here. The French understand that developing a Euro deterrent would require them to be involved in a step-by-step procedure. A Euro deterrent requires a Euro weapons complex. This agreement does mesh with long term French strategic aspirations. But what of the British? If London wanted to save money why not make an arrangement with the US, after all UK warheads are practically US warheads anyway? Why France? Yes, France is “closer” but in other respects, especially in the nuclear field, the US is closer. Is London reassessing its post Suez role in the world? What do the Germans make of this, and the wider Franco-UK defence arrangements? There has to be more involved here than just trying to save a quid.

    • Peter Burt (History)

      Yes, I agree. Reading through the treaty documents, it is clear that the long term aim is a closely aligned programme of co-operation on research into nuclear weapons physics over the years ahead. I suspect that statements to the effect that the treaty will result in cost savings are just presentational, as it is pretty clear that the project is at such an early stage that it is not yet possible to say how the overall economics will play out.

  15. shaheen (History)

    There is a lot of speculation in those comments. But one should always remember that Occam’s razor is helpful in politics too: sometimes the most simple explanation is the real (and only) one.

    As per US-French and UK-French nuclear cooperation, their existence are really not secret. On the first one, there was a public announcement in 1996 regarding increased cooperation on stockpile stewardship. On the second one, just read the various UK-French summit communiqués since the early 1990s.

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