Superphénix (Part 2)

Part 2 of the postings about the Superhpenix reactor focuses on the protests against it during its construction (Links to Part 1 and Part 3). Relative to antinuclear movements in other countries, the opposition was massive. No other country before or after this time ever experienced 60,000 protesters coming out to occupy the proposed site of a nuclear reactor.
The opposition was remarkable also because it sparked a low-grade insurgency against the machinery and installations involved in construction. This campaign culminated in a rocket attack against the reactor vessel--before it was loaded with fuel. The translations below tell the story of Chaïm Nissim, the man who confessed to the crime twenty-one years later after the statute of limitations had expired.
For a short time this news shocked French and Swiss society. The French electrical utility and the nuclear establishment wanted to pursue all possible options for making him pay for the crime. Nissim had been an elected member of Swiss parliament for the Green Party, and suddenly they and the antinuclear movement wanted nothing to do with him. No one could afford to be associated with illegal methods of protest, regardless of the fact that the rocket attacks had been carefully planned to avoid harm to people.
Curiously, this worst ever attack against a nuclear installation was quickly forgotten. The electrical utilities and the nuclear industry in general must have realized there was nothing to gain in bringing more attention to the fact that someone had once successfully launched a bazooka attack against a nuclear plant. The less said the better. Nor would they want to give him a platform for raising questions about when one might be justified in destroying property that one believes poses a catastrophic threat to the environment nature. The Greens and The Left wanted to forget about him too. He published a memoir but it seems to have not sold well.

Le Nouvel Observateur, July 31, 2007
by Robert Marmoz

Vital Michalon, a 31-year-old doctor, died on July 31, 1977 while protesting the construction of the Superphenix nuclear power plant in Creys-Malville. His family and the organization Sortir du nucléaire held a gathering in his memory.

The family of Vital Michalon and the group Sortir du nucléaire organized a gathering at Faverges (Isere) on Wednesday July 31, 3 PM, at the very location where the young antinuclear protester lost his life. He died thirty years ago while protesting the construction of the Superphenix nuclear power plant in Creys-Malville. One hundred people attended.
On July 31, 1977, in a misty rain and fog, some 60,000 protesters attempted to converge on the site where the state intended to construct this nuclear power plant. Severely repressed, the protest was terminated by the death of Vital Michelon, a 31-year-old physician in training. His lungs were destroyed by the deflagration of one of the offensive grenades which the security forces had made liberal use of. Another protester lost a leg, while a security officer was injured when a grenade exploded in his hand.

One of the final gasps of May 1968

The outcome of this protest, the most important against a nuclear installation, had severely traumatized a generation of militants who had lived through it as one of the last gasps of the protests of May 1968. The number of protesters, and the magnitude of their mobilization did nothing to slow down government plans, as the Superphenix was constructed and connected to the grid in 1986. However, this prototype fast-neutron reactor, which had for a long time crystallized antinuclear opposition, never functioned properly. Over nine years, it was in service only for ten months. In 1997, the government of Lionel Jospin, of which Dominique Voynet was the minister of the environment, terminated the Superphenix experience. Since then the dismantling of the reactor has progressed, but it won’t be complete until 2023.

Translation by WISE-Paris
of an article in Swissinfo, May 8, 2003

In 1982, Chaïm Nissim shot with a bazooka at the nuclear power station of Creys-Malville, France, then under construction. As the statute of limitations has passed, the former representative of the Green party in the Geneva cantonal government (until 2001) confessed to the attack in the mass media.
Aged 32 at the time, the environmental activist fired two missiles at the nuclear power station, missing his goal, the center of the plant, only by a hair’s breadth. Thus, there would have been a delay in construction work of two years, said Nissim in interviews with the western Swiss papers Le Courrier and Le Temps.
According to Nissim, it was a small group of opponents of the fast breeder Superphenix, who had the idea of the attack in 1977. Nissim was a member of this group.
The largest difficulty for the anti-nuclear activists consisted of the acquisition of the weapon, said Nissim. At first, the group approached Swiss radical left-wing groups. This led to contacts with German terrorists, Chaïm Nissim explained in a manuscript.
It had been a problem to convince the terrorists to give them the bazooka “without having to give them anything in return, which they could have used for a purpose we could not support,” the former local councilor said to Le Courrier. The common aim to weaken the “military and industrial complex to which Malville also belonged” eventually convinced the terrorists to grant assistance “free of charge.”
Thanks to the Germans’ goodwill, Chaïm Nissim had been able to get hold of a Soviet bazooka and several missiles in Brussels in September 1981. A few months later, on 18th January 1982, from the ruins of an old castle, the radical activist fired at the plant.

Le Temps, Geneva, May 8, 2003 by Sylvain Besson

The former Green member of parliament Chaïm Nissim reveals the mystery behind the attempt, in 1982, to strike the French Superphenix nuclear power plant.

The most difficult time in the life of Chaïm Nissim was perhaps the hours passed one evening in 1981 in a sordid Turkish café in Brussels. The young thirty-year-old had driven alone from Switzerland, and he wondered if the journey would end in prison. That evening he planned to take delivery of a Russian rocket launcher, furnished by Belgian members of Cellules Communistes Combattantes (CCC). He planned to use it to attack the nuclear complex under construction in Creys-Malville, 50 kilometers from Geneva.
Today, Chaïm Nissim is 53, and he was a member of the Swiss parliament for the Green party for 14 years. The memory of the meeting in the café haunts him still. In fact, it became so hard to carry that this pater familias, resembling a rustic version of Woody Allen, decided to confess to Le Temps his biggest secret: it was he who, on January 18, 1982, fired five shape-charged rockets at the Creys-Malville reactor. Swiss and French investigators tried for twenty years to solve the mystery surrounding this attack, the most spectacular ever staged against a nuclear reactor in Europe.
Snatches of the truth about the attack started to emerge in 1994: a document removed from the archives of the Hungarian secret service indicated that the operation was led by the terrorist group of Illitch Ramirez Sanchez, alias Carlos [the Jackal], one of the most infamous terrorists ever known. Shortly thereafter, in Switzerland, the Public Ministry led by Carla Del Ponte arrested three people, one of which was Olivier de Marcellus, today an organizer of the anti-G8 protest set for June 1st. Five years later, the inquiry into the “friends of Carlos” was classified, without revealing anything further about the rocket attack, nor about the activities of the Carlos group in Switzerland.
In the unpublished manuscript which Le Temps was able to read, Chaïm Nissim tells this story, revealing that the Carlos group was merely an auxiliary in the operation. The other participants in the operation are not identified. Chaïm Nissim is the first to speak, and his avowal makes him visibly nervous. He fears the reactions of his friends. He hesitates and fears, as he did in 1982, that he would be seen as a “pathetic clown, a ridiculous fool.” But he no longer wants to live in silence about his clandestine life as a militant who “carries out attacks by night, and protests in front of parliament in the evening.”

Instructions for saboteurs behind enemy lines

In his tranquil house in Versoix, the former Green member of parliament brought out a box full of old antinuclear journals, dating mostly from 1976. That year, he participated in a militant cell that organized rallies aimed at disrupting the construction of the nuclear power plant. The ambiance, in the beginning amicable, degenerated in July 1977. A protester was killed by the police, while two others lost limbs.
A clandestine group formed around Chaïm Nissim, alias “Manolo,” and around ten other militants who have been identified only by their pseudonyms: “Max,” the mechanic, “Chloe,” the mother of the family, “Antonio,” the anarchist-burglar. Aided by a Swiss Army manual entitled Instructions for Saboteurs Behind Enemy Lines, they dynamited electrical pylons, blew up machinery, and torched an office used by engineers.
The low intensity conflict around Creys-Manville was conceived to harm no one but cause maximum damage to property. Mr. Nissim explains in his manuscript, “We wanted to commit to action, register our rejection of the plant, and stop it if we could. And yet there was also the romanticism of clandestine action, a magnificent dream. How could a small group save the world?  Comparing the violence we had avoided with that of Malville [the fast breeder Superphenix reactor site] which could have killed a million citizens in the Rhône-Alpes region, our action could be called non-violent.”
The group passed long hours in a ruined building with a view of the Superphenix reactor. This was where the idea took hold to put an explosive in the heart of the power plant to damage the most vital component [the reactor vessel] and delay the project by two years.
The small band, viewed itself as the armed branch of Gaia, or Earth Mother, fighting against the cold monster of technology. It wanted to “with love, delicately place a tiny grain of salt in the weak spot of nuclear power.” This would give birth to a “mild and organic counter-power.”
The realization of the project took time: the first trials carrying explosives by radio-controlled planes ended in failure. But the group had contacts. They met with an “autonomous” person from Zurich with radical leanings named “le Chef.” He had a more moderate friend, Olivier de Marcellus, who would serve as intermediary for several months between the ecological dreamers from Geneva and the Carlos group.
Chaïm Nissim said, “We knew only fifteen years later whom we were dealing with. We received typewritten letters, with no distinctive marks, but peppered with Leninist terminology. They asked us about our commitment to serve the international proletariat. Our concern was that we needed to receive the rocket launchers without having to return the favor, without being obliged to help them later.”

J Day

At the time of these dealings, Chaïm Nissim met a well-dressed man who always wore gloves in order to leave no fingerprints. It was Johannes Weinrich, or “Steve,” a close lieutenant of Carlos… Finally, the rocket launchers and munitions were brought to Brussells by an intermediary of the CCC, a Belgian terrorist group accompanied for the occasion by a consultant with a Slavic accent – perhaps a Russian soldier – who explained the workings of the hardware to the ecologist from Geneva. The attack took place the night of January 18, 1982. Chaïm Nissim, alone the whole time, fired five rockets, two of which fell inside the still open dome of the power plant. One of the projectiles came very close to hitting the reactor [under construction at the time and not loaded with fuel]. The Superphenix reactor was completed, but it was closed in 1998 after having functioned for only 174 days during ten years of operation.
From his era, Chaïm Nissim, who is participating now in the preparation for the anti-G8 protests of June 1st, draws lessons for the “alterglobalists” of the present day. First, “revolutionary violence,” that which kills, benefits no one, as he witnessed in the failures of groups like CCC and Carlos. But he says mild sabotage should be done, with measure. The ecologist detects among certain anti-globalization militants the same ferment of hatred and exclusion that he saw among certain “autonomous” radicals in his era. For the G8, he advocates the use of sit-ins, to the exclusion of all other direct action. This is without a doubt what is called learning lessons from history.

Other sources:

Interview with Chaïm Nissim on this TV broadcast (French)

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