2015 began with news from France riveting the world’s attention when twelve people were murdered and five were wounded in the Charlie Hebdo assault.
There was an outpouring of sympathy for the victims, but it was also teachable moment for the global community to ponder the root causes of the crime. While most reports focused on the religious and ethnic divides, the grievances behind the crime are rooted in France’s colonial and quasi-colonial past—a past which was really a drive to secure resources, energy independence and status as one of the “great powers.”
Thus what appears superficially to be a clash of cultures is also a problem of environmental justice. If there had to be an attack on the irrationality of religion, the more appropriate satirical shots could just as well have been aimed at what is known as the “nuclear priesthood” and other techno-scientific cults that are driving the global crises of conflict and environmental destruction.
On this point, there is some irony in the way the world media covered the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The focus was on the religious cartoons, yet the journal’s strong record of environmental reporting was completely overlooked.
To some extent, this was Charlie’s fault. The journal has been faulted for neglecting its environmental and political coverage in recent years in favor of the fight it picked with religious extremism. Norman Finkelstein, saying that the cartoons were “sadism, not satire,” accused the journal of forgetting that satire is best aimed at the powerful rather than at disadvantaged groups. 
On the other hand, Charlie certainly never abandoned its concern with other issues. The foreign media simply didn’t make the effort to read back issues, or to note even that cartoons, regardless of their merits and demerits, are usually regarded as an extra added onto the content of primary interest. It’s as if aliens came to learn about the The New Yorker and formed their impressions by seeing only the witty jokes about neurotic Americans talking to their psychologists.
For the remainder of this article I give a digest of some nuclear news that came out of France this month, and I explain how Charlie Hebdo has, since the 1970s, played a significant role in making such news register in the French national conscience.
Furthermore, for the sake of rebutting those who would say that Charlie was racist or sadistic, it should be clear that journal’s antinuclear stance, as well as its coverage of other issues, was directly linked to a concern for the way national energy policy exploited African and Islamic nations as it carved out the post-war sphere of influence possessively referred to as “Franceafrique.”
At the end of 2014, France’s other political/satirical magazine, “Le Canard Enchaîné” (The Duck on a Chain) reported on a flaw in the nation’s nuclear waste burial project which would, if common sense prevailed, be enough shut it down for good.
Le Canard has a long history going back to the early 20th century, and many of the contributors have also worked for Charlie Hebdo since its inception in the 1970s. The similarity in tone and artistic style is obvious, and in fact the two journals fit with a satirical style that traces its roots back to the dying days of French royalty when cartoons were an innovative way of spreading dissent among the illiterate masses.
Like Charlie Hebdo, Le Canard has been the sort of journal one could go to for the scoop on the nuclear industry that the mainstream media and political establishment (all the main parties, professional associations, and labor unions) never want to criticize openly. In this matter of the nuclear waste project, it was the inconvenience of a large aquifer found under the place where the “nucléocrates” have already invested much treasure in building a burial site for high-level nuclear waste.
A translation of the article follows:
Nuclear Waste on the Aquifer
by Professor Canardeau
translation of “Des déchets (nucléaires) sur la nappe”
Le Canard Enchaîné
A huge pocket of warm water exists beneath what is supposed to be France’s largest nuclear garbage pit, located near the town Bure. This site is destined to store, for at least 100,000 years, the most dangerous high-level waste that has accumulated since France built its first reactor. 125 meters tall, 30 kilometers wide and dozens of kilometers long, this reserve of warm water could sooner or later be used to produce heat or energy. The water is a comfortable 66 degrees, but it is found at a depth of 1,800 meters, while the nuclear waste is to be buried above it at a depth of 500 meters.
On January 5, 2015, the agency for the management of radioactive waste (ANDRA) will find itself on trial in high court in Nanterre for having divulged false information concerning the supposed absence of concern about significant underground water tables at the site in Bure. The citizen groups “Sortir du nucléaire” and “Stop Bure 55,” and “Mirabel Lorraine Nature Environnement” have brought the charges.
Some background: The fundamental rules related to deep geological disposal of nuclear waste, established in 1991 and still in force, clearly state that sites should not involve significant concerns about geothermal sources or build-up of heat. But in 2002, the geophysicist André Mourot (now deceased) was going through the archives at the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research in Nancy, Reims, and he discovered the existence of this aquifer, and he realized its significance as a source of energy. The geologist Antoine Godinot remembers that André Mourot wrote a report and distributed it to all interested groups. Next, they demanded that ANDRA conduct testing to learn fully about the aquifer.
ANDRA made no response until 2008. “What a disaster, this drilling and testing,” laughed the nuclear physicist Monique Sené. “The probe got stuck. They couldn’t even reach the aquifer.”
This fiasco didn’t stop ANDRA from declaring in 2009 that the geothermic source is negligible. Since then it has stuck to this position. To the malcontents it accuses of spreading this information about a geothermic potential, it responds, “The studies done by ANDRA concern whether there is an exceptional geothermic resource.”
For ANDRA, as far as Bure is concerned, there is “no geothermic resource of exceptional interest.” Everything hinges on what is understood by “exceptional.”
Tada! At the end of 2013, at the request of the local information committee tracking the Bure laboratory (composed of representatives of the state, local collectives, and civil society groups), a Swiss group called Geowatt, specializing in geothermic energy resources, produced a report that stated, “We are of the opinion that the geothermic resources of the Bure region could at present be developed at an economical cost with the use of appropriate technology.” The nail in the coffin was the additional comment stating, “The burial of nuclear waste prevents access to the geothermic resource.”
The physicist Bernard Laponche points out, “If we build this project at this site, we are going to impose enormous risks on future generations, and for sure one day people will want to exploit this geothermic energy, but they will stumble upon the nuclear waste that is blocking access to it.”
Perhaps ANDRA will be able to leave their contact information for future generations to get in touch.
The hearing described above was held on January 5th, two days before the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. In normal times, this case probably would have been ignored by the national media anyway, so of course it received no notice when the events of January 7th. swept all other news off the front pages.
Again, there is great irony here in the fact that society can be ripped apart by religious and cultural differences while it is oblivious to the existential threats posed not by external enemies but by its home-grown creations. A century from now people might care less about their religious differences but be angry that their grandparents let leaking nuclear waste be built on top of their geothermic energy source.
What follows below is my translation of a statement about the hearing prepared by the plaintiffs who brought the case to court.
The French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA) kept lying in court: Summary of the court hearing on January 5th, 2015 
Following a lawsuit by six concerned citizen groups (ASODEDRA, BureStop55, Cedra52, Habitants Vigilants de Gondrecourt-le-Château, MIRABEL – Lorraine Nature Environnement, Réseau “Sortir du nucléaire”), on January the 5th, ANDRA was called to the Superior Court of Nanterre [near Paris].
We sued ANDRA for the offense of hiding data on the geothermal resource of the Bure site for more than 15 years. This geothermal energy resource impedes the construction of a nuclear waste disposal site there, as it might lead to drilling through the wastes. Our lawyer demonstrated that ANDRA willingly failed to execute its duty to honestly inform the public. As a public agency, it is compelled to do so by law.
Attorney Etienne Ambroselli said, “We want to stop ANDRA from practicing the art of misinformation. We expect the court to condemn ANDRA for not telling the truth about the difficulties it has encountered in carrying out its mission to manage nuclear wastes over the long term.”
The misinformation went on during the legal procedures before the hearing. ANDRA did not produce any new arguments; the weaknesses of these had been emphasized in the citizen groups’ replications before the hearing. Stuck in this awkward position, ANDRA now has to modify its message with further misinformation. While it had declared there was no geothermal potential, it now recognizes there is.
Henceforth, to elude the problem of safety, ANDRA now says it would be possible to tap the geothermal brine near the site, but this would not affect the safety of the site. Henceforth, according to ANDRA’s attorney, incidentally drilling through the wastes would release only one hundredth the amount of natural radioactivity! It appears that there is nothing to worry about with these high-level long lived wastes, which raises an interesting question: why bury them if they are so inconsequential? As for the Safety Rules [Règle Fondamentale de Sûreté, RFS III.2.f, then, Guide de Sûreté 2008 of the French legislation] they would be meaningless…
When the memory of the waste dump will have faded, people of the future might wish to take advantage of the earth’s thermal energy, and drilling operations might contact the wastes (this is quite possible considering the decline of fossil resources). The future generations will be the victims. It would be irresponsible for our leaders to give the go-ahead to such a project.
Without new arguments, ANDRA’s attorney could not justify the malfeasance and unacceptable malfunctions which happened during ANDRA’S drilling in the geothermal investigation. He only pretended that such problems (anomalous obstruction of the tool by mud, inability to conduct sufficiently long hydraulic testing, inappropriate sampling and temperature recording …) would be the ”usual” problems encountered in such a task.
The judgment will be given March the 27th at 14h. We hope the court will recognize the obvious strengths of the plea brought forward by our concerned-citizens groups.
After I put the translation of the Le Canard article on my blog, I was contacted by one of the scientists mentioned in it, the geologist Antoine Godinot. He has been very active in the struggle to bring this problem to national consciousness, and in emails he reiterated his strong belief that the French political and nuclear establishment is perpetrating a horrific crime on future generations.
We can only hope that Charlie Hebdo, with its newfound global fame, will get back to its environmental roots and start screaming about this issue some more. In fact, for starters, all they would have to do is reissue a digital version of their special edition on the nuclear industry that they published in 2012, and perhaps even translate it to a few other prominent global languages.
Below is a translation of the promotional page of Charlie Hebdo’s special nuclear issue (see the original with its artwork in the link above).
The Nuclear Swindle: 70 Years of French Atomic Radiation
Charlie Hebdo Responds to Montebourg*
Special Edition of Charlie Hebdo, September 2012
Great Follies of the Past
The Anti-Nuclear Movement
The Gifts Were Almost Perfect
The Future of an Illusion
Next September 15, all government-sanctioned ecological issues will be examined at the Environmental Conference. It’s a safe bet that the topic of nuclear energy will not be broached, as it was carefully swept under the carpet at the Environmental Roundtable held by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Montebourg and Valls, representatives of a largely pro-nuclear Parti Socialist, set the limits of debate by declaring that “nuclear is an industry of the future.” It has been like this for fifty years whenever the question of nuclear energy is addressed.
In these sixty-four pages, Fabrice Nicolino retraces the history of atomic radiation in France. Light is finally shone on figures unknown by society, such as Pierre Guillaumat, and on discreet institutions such as the Peon Commission. In 1974, Prime Minister Pierre Messmer announced on television a massive plan to construct nuclear power plants. The result: today France has the highest per capita ratio of nuclear power plants in the world, and the nation is directed by the interests of EDF (electricity provider, “Electricité de France”), AREVA (nuclear power plant construction, uranium mining) and the CGT (labor, “Conféderation Générale du Travail”). No one lifts a finger against this scam.
Nuclear is a hold-up. A robbery in which democracy is the booty. Charlie Hebdo has been opposed to the all-nuclear policy since the 1970s. In this special issue Fournier, Reiser and Cavanna collaborate with Fabrice Nicolino, journalist and militant ecologist (author of “Bidoche,” “The Meat Industry Menaces the World” and “Who Killed Ecology?”).
*Minister of Industrial Renewal, May 2012-August 2014.
Very little else of the special issue has appeared online, but I did find one article from it, a review of a stage play about France’s nuclear history. The play just happens to be a translation project I am working on at the moment. (Publishers who might be interested in the English language rights can contact the publisher in Paris: Editions L’Echappée.)
translated from French
published in “The Nuclear Swindle (L’Escroquerie Nucléaire),” special edition of Charlie Hebdo, September 2012.
The Seditious Theater of Nicolas Lambert
by Fabrice Nicolino
Nicolas Lambert invented a new genre that could be called investigative theater. In “A Radiant Future: A French Fission,” he hits hard on the nuclear lobby while keeping the audience laughing.
Nicolas Lambert was born in Picardie in 1967. In the beginning he was a typical high school student, a “lycéen.” It was there, still not even an adolescent, that he fell for the theater. As a student of philosophy at university in Nanterre, he continued to do amateur theater and gained experience at the university theater group. He went on to manage that theater from 1990 to 1992.
The rest followed a natural course. In 1992, he founded, with the actor and musician Sylvie Gravagna, the Charlie Noé Company. They presented their creations, first “Arlequin poli par l’amour,” for an audience of young people in Seine-Saint-Denis. Settled in Pantin, the company went on to produce fifteen shows by 2003. And then, out of the blue, the famous Elf trials began. 
In 2003, all the scoundrels who had gorged themselves on Elf money were brought to the docket. Lambert attended all the sessions, and wrote a response to what he witnessed. In 2004, just before creating the company “Un pas de côté,” he launched his magnificent new production called “Elf, the Pump of Africa.” Every word in the script had been uttered in the trial. Lambert incarnated, madly and comically, all the corrupt individuals involved in the scandal.
Without realizing it, he had invented a genre—investigative theater.  In the same vein, he created a piece on nuclear history, which, after a triumph in all of France, was staged at the Festival d’Avignon. His title: “A Radiant Future: A French Fission.” Charlie isn’t lying to you when he says it’s very good, and better than that.
The quality of his device hinges first on faultless documentation. Lambert did his homework and got help from some excellent researchers. Apart from the trivial matter of the gloomy Eurodif  file (to be discussed elsewhere), the facts and the characters are all there in their exact places. But nothing would work without Lambert’s astonishing incarnations. The characters are many, but he does them all as a one-man show, on the stage and in the aisles, leaping from one spot to another, changing voices, moving from light to shadow.
The piece begins with a public information meeting concerning a proposed nuclear power plant. Hilarity ensues. Lambert is Mr. Loyal, Mr. EDF (“Electricité de France”), Mr. Elected Official, but also the simple dumbasses who’ve come to puff themselves up. What follows are numerous samples of official discourse, of ministers, presidents (Sarkozy is very well done) and nucleocrats. We must keep in mind that all the words chosen by Nicolas Lambert were actually spoken. This is an element of the play that gives the performance its considerable impact.
The best characterization is without doubt that of Pierre Guillaumat, the man who led the French nuclear program for decades. Lambert surpasses himself, camping the former head of the CEA (“Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique”) in semi-obscurity, pipe in mouth, answering the questions asked by a German journalist.
I left the theater wondering who I’d like to tear into first. And it’s not over. Lambert is preparing another play about the arms trade.
More about the play. A translation of the back cover of the book’s French edition:
Nicolas Lambert prepared this play about nuclear for seven years, pouring over heaps of articles and books, visiting nuclear power plants, attending public debates on the EPR reactor proposed for Penly, meeting union leaders, intermediaries, militants, corporate spokespersons for Areva and EDF—and then March 11, 2011: Fukushima.
Then this enormous task that he was conducting alone, in the shadows of a polite indifference, took on a sudden significance. The silence of the media, parliamentary apathy, the disdain for antinuclear activists (seen at best as lovable old cranks), the reassuring refrain that there was no risk of a major accident: all of these perceptions suddenly disintegrated. Barely finished, his play now had an audience that was ready to listen.
Tour de force: In two hours and in 23 characters, all performed by Nicolas Lambert, we are taught how France became the most nuclearized country in the world, beginning in 1945, when de Gaulle created the CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique) in order to make an atomic bomb, until our times when those who wish to get out of nuclear remain inaudible.
Through the choking laughter emanating from irradiated neurons, Lambert makes us see it all: the fable of energy independence, the farce of public debates, the discreet but essential role of great servants of the state like the stunning Pierre Guillaumat, one of the key characters of this saga, the Eurodif Affair, the terror attack in Paris in 1986, the edicts of Messmer and Pompidou, the procrastination of Mendès-France and Mitterand.
The script of the play is supplemented with a long interview with the author, background information, illustrations and a chronology. In short, everything that the nucleocrats don’t want to think about.
Thus ends this sampling of nuclear news from France—some that happened just before and just after the events of January 7th—and other news as it was covered in the pages of Charlie Hebdo in recent years.
One can only hope that something good will come out of the recent tragedy. There is some evidence that it sparked the national conscience and moved people to explore the historical roots of the problem. The French publisher Gallimard reports that Voltaire’s “Treatise On Tolerance” (1763) is climbing the charts this month with 120,000 copies sold. 
One can only wonder what the great satirist would have to say about the nuclear waste site now being built so close the home he shared with his lover, the mathematician and physicist Émilie du Châtelet.
 Mustafa Caglayan. “Norman Finkelstein: Charlie Hebdo is sadism, not satire.” Andalou Agency. January 19, 2014.
 Private correspondence received from the plaintiffs, yet to be published elsewhere.
 This trial was the final judgment on what was called “l’Affaire Elf,” a corruption scandal of the Elf Aquitaine oil company that ensnared several high-profile figures in the political and business establishment. It has been called the largest corruption scandal in a Western democracy in the entire post WWII era.
 The genre isn’t actually new. It’s also called documentary theater or verbatim theater. Anna Deveare Smith is a primary example. She did a one-woman play consisting of many characters from the LA riots called “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.:
 Eurodif refers to the uranium enrichment plant that was opened in 1973, built in France in partnership with other Western European countries.
 “Voltaire’s ‘Treatise on Tolerance’ climbing French bestseller lists.” Russia Today. January 28, 2015. http://rt.com/news/227223-voltaire-tolerance-france-bestseller/
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