To impose nuclear waste disposal, the French state crushes opposition

Pour imposer Cigéo, l’État nucléaire écrase l’opposition
Reporterre, October 18, 2018
translated by Dennis Riches

One is not permitted to challenge the French nuclear industry. That is the finding of the author of this essay who recounts how opponents, like himself, of the nuclear waste disposal project CIGEO (Centre industriel de stockage géologique), in Meuse, have daily encounters with police and face condemnations by authorities.

Gaspard d’Allens is an opponent of the nuclear waste disposal project called CIGEO. He is also a journalist, working notably for Reporterre. He is also a writer and coauthor of the book Bure: The Battle Between Nuclear and the Neopeasants, published by Seuil-Reporterre.

by Gaspard d’Allens
translated by Dennis Riches
original source:
Reporterre, October 18, 2018

Sometimes I ask myself when I wake up, with the new sun rising: what country are we living in? It’s been a year since September 17th when one morning at six o’clock I saw dozens of police officers in my village, Mandres-en-Barrois, near Bure (Meuse). They came to raid the apartments and houses of opponents of the radioactive garbage dump called CIGEO. It is a movement I belong to.

The helicopter hovered over our heads as the officers forced doors open with crowbars and shouted in the street “Don’t move!” with their weapons drawn. They took dozens of computers, USB drives, portable telephones and books on ecology. It was our first time to be raided. Since then there have been four other times. In the melee, my manuscript Bure: The Battle Against Nuclear was seized as incriminating evidence. My first readers were the police.

One year later, Tuesday October 16th, I learned when I awoke that I had been summoned to be in court that same day. I had not been told in advance. I had not been given a summons nor the details of the case. My lawyer found out about it while he was at the courthouse on other business. The prosecutor, who had sent the documents to the wrong address, told me I was “radically unfindable.” Nonetheless, I had been under surveillance for the past year as part of an inquest focused on a supposed “association of malefactors” who formed the opposition to CIGEO. I am surveilled every day. All my conversations are filed, my gestures, my movements. At public conferences in far away corners of France I’ve seen officers filming me and the events. In Mandres-en-Barrois, in my home, it is not uncommon to see a police officer from my window, officers from the PSIG holding their smartphones. “Click.” They take a photo of us, five, ten or fifteen times a day. At night, their headlights brighten my room. We live under military occupation. It is like in the film The Life of Others (La Vie des Autres), except here they don’t even hide.

On Tuesday I urgently demanded the file on the case. I was refused. I was judged in absentia, with no right of defense. No lawyer. No chance to speak for myself. I could be sentenced to three months in prison, suspended, and a 3,000 euro fine for having been, according to them, involved in the actions in Lejuc Forest, the place where ANDRA (L’Agence nationale pour la gestion des déchets radioactifs) would like to bury the most toxic remnants of our modern life—substances that will be radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

I remind all that ownership of the forest is contested, that a legal uncertainty hangs over this issue. ANDRA was condemned for having started work illegally. I was thus opposed to the arrival of an excavator on January 23, 2017, placing myself symbolically in front of it. A journalist for France 3 Television was there filming. Where was the violence? A female protester was roughed up by guards. Her complaint was lost without follow-up. Bulldozers razed cabins when their occupants refused to leave them. Where is the right, the legality in all this? In February 2017, the administrative tribunal judged that ANDRA was not the owner of the forest. In Mandres-en-Barrois, the police presence remains.

The nuclear industry does not accept being challenged. When its operations are made visible, it resorts to such violence. It crushes. It atomizes. I know I was targeted for this reason. This judgment against this interference is merely a pretext to intimidate and silence us.

For a long time we have seen these authoritarian measures expanding like a pestilence. Among the opponents of CIGEO there was a sixty-year-old who was held in custody for fifty hours at the beginning of the summer. A vegetable farmer was charged for transporting an Opinel knife and a palette knife in his truck. On June 20, 2018, our lawyer was summoned and put in custody, and his office was searched. The label “association of malefactors” was put on the head of the opponents. A total of fifty trials have been held, twenty-six with restraining orders imposed, and two years in custody accumulated.

I am a committed journalist. I spent two years in Bure to better understand what was at stake. Ever since my arrival, I have been perplexed. How is it that such an important subject has been made so invisible? How is it that the government has spent one billion euros in the region before the project even has legal sanction? How is it that the findings of a public debate in 2005, which concluded that surface storage was necessary, were not respected?  Why does ANDRA arrange hunting expeditions in the forests for local officials? Why do they arrange school trips to the nuclear laboratory? Why in 2015 did the municipal council of Mandres-en-Barrois vote to cede the Lejuc Forest to ANDRA even though the residents of the region had declared themselves against such a deal? With the resistance that has grown and the visibility that we have given this subject, the nuclear sector is obligated to justify itself. But it is not justifiable. The nuclear sector is indefensible. Worse, it is criminal. Never has a civilization left such a poisonous legacy as radioactive wastes. They have no solution for treating them but they continue to produce them. The nuclear garbage bin at Bure is an illusion, a pretext for prolonging the disaster. CIGEO aims to bury the problem as much as it wishes to bury the wastes, 500 meters deep in denial and hypocrisy.

I spent two years in Bure because I didn’t want to practice the sort of journalism that is disembodied and off the ground. I made the choice to live here, to dig into the place during a period when most information comes to us through screens, gets tweeted then lost in the flow of instantaneous information. More than neutrality, I prefer friendship and engagement.

Up against the atomic establishment, staying neutral (or objective) would be a surrender. One cannot remain unmoved by the desertification of this inexorable nuclear monster. One cannot remain neutral in the face of the nuclear obscenity imposed by this project.

The State, after having separated individuals from one another with its neoliberal project, would now like to separate the individual from the self. One cannot be a lawyer and an activist, journalist and opponent. One has to choose. We have to cut ourselves in two, atrophy ourselves and become “unidimensional people,” as Herbert Marcuse put it.

I refuse this mutilation. I am as much a journalist as I am an opponent of the CIGEO project. That does not make my speech less legitimate. There are truths presented in the daily newspapers with no concern for their objectivity. That I find myself today before the court does not concern me. I will continue my work.

What concerns me is that we are all incarcerated in a nuclear society that imposes its power in a way no tyrant ever did before. 24,000 years. That’s the half-life of plutonium 239--a burden that each generation will inherit, with no possibility of deliverance from it.

What can be said about a system of justice that puts us in this predicament, treating us as “malefactors”?  What can be said when we share the same world and the same language? The same hopes.

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