In 1975, word came to the late hippies of the small town I was living in Normandy that a nuclear plant was to be built nearby. When the news was announced, the idea was immediatedly associated with unfeeling technocrats of exact science, if not of corruption, greed and selfishness. The suits who ran the programme evoked the senile and narrow-minded film generals who are inevitably in the wrong, herding their troops into disaster. Although this would have been enough for revolt, what upset me the most was that the plans were to annex the most beautiful stretch of landscape, building the plant right on the sea, at the foot of wild, dark stone cliffs where I loved to hang out, thinking I was Lautreamont, or where I took girls to kiss. I was still a kid then, and although I was not yet able to grow a full beard, I had hair long enough for two. With my best pal, we made a plywood sign, drew an anti-nuclear cartoon on it, and joined the demonstration. We had also taken a guitar. As with the beard, I couldn’t afford a real folk guitar, but only a «classic Spanish », with nylon strings.
Then we went marching. Thousands of older long haired bearded men and their girlfriends in oversized knitted sweaters were walking under the pouring rain down the narrow winding roads that lead to the future plant. Once the heavy smoke of grilled sausages at the meeting point was dissipated, I remember looking at every single blade of grass like it was to never be seen again. Meanwhile, our cartoon sign didn’t made the impact we thought it would, and was even considered skeptically by the most serious activists we hoped to befriend.
Of course, they built it. And even extended it. And everybody forgot about it, just like the hundreds of others everywhere else. It seemed unfair that some countries wouldn’t have their own. Hey, aren’t you happy to play the turntables? Or write your blogs all night ?
Nearby, there was already a treatment plant for used fuel. It was a quintessential late sixties idea, along with speed trains on air cushion or electric knives. Used fuel was shipped in from various parts of the world to be buried in the landscape, or dumped into sea into concrete, or then later more resistant glass containers. Over years, I saw this plant constantly growing, and it’s as luminescent at night as a city. When the Tchernobyl disaster was reported to the Western world, we went sailing for 2 days, and I remember the orange glow of La Hague that can be seen from halfway across the Channel. Most outrageous was when used fuel started to be shipped in from Japan in the 80’s. By then I had my own folk guitar, and could grow a beard, but I didn’t make a new sign, or participated to the demonstrations that greeted the Japanese cargo ship on its first trips.
A week before the Fukushima accident unfolded, I met a sweet old man at a Parisian dinner, while glancing at his Légion d’Honneur, I asked him what he was up to, since the decoration is frequently worn by people who happily won it on the battlefields of Fashion or decorating. He told me that, as a major executive, he had been fighting all his life for nuclear energy, to the point, he and his family had miraculously escaped a bombing by an anti-nuclear activist group who blew up the staircase of the building while they were asleep.
The man seemed so reasonnable that I had to smile to myself, the foolish hipster I was, walking with my guitar and the anti-nuclear cartoon sign under the misty rain.
“Opération 100 Masques pour le Japon” by Minimix