More on Charlie Hebdo's Environmental and Anti-nuclear Roots

Charlie Hebdo : A Journal Intimately Linked with the Environmental Movement

translation of:
Barnabé Binctin and Lorène Lavocat, “Charlie Hebdo : un journal intimement lié àl’écologie,” Reporterre, January 8, 2015. (see the link for cartoonists' drawings)

Born in 1970 in the fertile soil of the journal Hara Kiri, Charlie Hebdo is not only satirical, irreverent and anarchically libertarian. It was, and continues to be, one of the favored spaces that speaks for the environmental movement. The former director of information for the weekly, François Camé, said it was a view of ecology that was “joyous, utopian and inventive.”
Gébé, Reiser, Fournier, Nicolino... so many laughing figures, with their barbed pens and lacerating pencils, who lent their talents to the ecology movement. So many journalists spent time chez Charlie.

The voice of the nascent environmental movement

Ecology became a topic for Charlie Hebdo to cover in the 1960s thanks to the work of Pierre Fournier (http://www.reporterre.net/Fournier-precurseur-de-l-ecologie). He was a cartoonist and chronicler, but also a militant ecologist from the start. “He arrived with his dreams, against nuclear and for vegetarianism,” remembers Danielle Fournier, his partner. “Everyone teased him, but they listened to him. He was respected.” Cabu said then the Fournier family was a bunch of carrot munchers. Little by little, his ideas found their place in the wide open pages of Charlie Hebdo. Danielle added, “Cavanna and Choron gave him carte blanche. He did whatever he wanted.” The team managed an organic winery, one of the first, and brought cases of pesticide-free Bordeaux from Aquitaine. As the environmental cause emerged painfully in the post 1968 years, Charlie Hebdo positioned itself as the voice of the anti-nuclear struggle, the voice for solar energy and against overconsumption. Pressured by the enthusiasm of Fournier, the whole team, even the less convinced, like Wolinski, began to speak for the environment.
In 1972, the weekly launched the first political environmental journal: La Gueule Ouverte. After the death of Pierre Fournier, in 1973, Isabelle Monin, the partner of Cabu, took over the reins at this monthly.


All is going well at the uranium mine in Arlit... if Areva says so.

Charlie Hebdo then took a very active part in the fight against nuclear, a founding struggle of the environmental movement. “It’s a historical bond, a fraternal link that connects us to Charlie Hebdo,” explains Philippe Brousse, national director of the group Réseau Sortir du Nucléaire. “Thousands of people became aware because of Charlie Hebdo, and before that because of Hara Kiri.” Charlie was one of the essential actors in the mobilization against nuclear.
A significant event came at the beginning of the movement, as told in this anecdote by Danielle Fournier: “For the protest against the nuclear power plant at Bugey in 1971, Charlie Hebdo chartered buses to go from Paris. Three quarters of the protesters were readers of the journal.”
The journal followed the movement for the rest of the 20th century. The director of  Sortir du Nucléaire, formed in 1997, remembers many contributions by Charb, who graciously allowed his drawings to be published in the group’s publications. “They were voluntary contributions. Charb denounced the nuclear menace, the way Charlie Hebdo always denounced all the forms of extremism in human folly.
In 2010, Cabu and other cartoonists from Charlie used their drawings to undertake a protest against the military uses of nuclear technology. As for Fabrice Nicolino, two years ago he produced a special issue of Charlie Hebdo entitled The Nuclear Swindle.
The same year, Charlie Hebdo was one of the first to take on the CIGEO, France’s project for nuclear waste burial in Bure (Meuse region). This time, it was another journalist, Antonio Fischetti, who searched and sleuthed and disturbed the comfortable in the way that the journal always knew how to do so well.
Michel Marie, spokesperson for CEDRA (collective against the burial of radioactive wastes) recalls, “He came and stayed for three days. He was very committed. His wasn’t the first national coverage, but his article had a big impact. And it wasn’t just caricature. It was real in-depth reporting. This is how Charlie Hebdo always knew how to prick the national conscience, especially when it came to nuclear.”

A joyous and comical vision of ecology

Like this, Charlie mixed the bittersweet of the pencil with the impertinence of reflection. Since its founding, Charlie Hebdo defended the environment with satirical blows and withering chronicles. The shift toward this tone was seen in the animated film L’An 01 (Year 01, made in 1973). It sprang from the imagination of Gébé, joyous critic of productivisme and consumer society. The motto was, “We don’t stop everything. We reflect, and it is not sad.”
This approach seduced journalists like François Camé, who was information director of the weekly from 1996 to 1999, when he quit over a conflict with journal editor Philippe Val. He says, “The ecology movement can be seen as lamentably sad and idiotic, but also as joyous and inventive. Charlie Hebdo always carried a vision that was resolutely positive and human.” It had one irreplaceable weapon: being funny. “We have to use humor to deal with and defend our convictions, our ideas, and our commitments,” says François Camé, “If not, we quickly become dangerous, sectarian frauds.”
And still, every week since 2010, Fabrice Nicolino writes an environmental column in the journal. The piece that appeared yesterday [January 7, 2015] was entitled Flooded at Every Floor. He is keeping quiet about the next one. Much awaited for sure.

Originally published in French by Lorène Lavocat et Barnabé Binctin in Reporterre, January 8, 2015.

Four persons mentioned in this article were killed on January 7th, 2015: Cabu, Charb, Tignous, and Wolinski. Fabrice Nicolino was shot in the leg and is recovering.


France's Bure Nuclear Waste Site on Trial

Recently, I posted a translation from France’s other satirical/serious political journal  Le Canard enchaîné (non, je ne suis pas et ce n’est pas Charlie) regarding the inconvenience of a geothermic energy source that was discovered under the planned site of France’s underground nuclear waste storage facility. Several citizens’ groups banded together to sue ANDRA, the government agency building the facility, and they had their hearing on January 5, 2015.
Even if they get a favorable ruling in the case, the court is powerless to order ANDRA to halt construction. The most that can be hoped for is a condemnation and increased public awareness of this serious flaw in the plans of the French state to deal with its nuclear waste problem. In normal times, nuclear issues have a hard time getting onto the radar of public discourse, and this tendency was only increased when the horrific murders happened in Paris on January 7th, pushing all other news to the margins. It is unfortunate that this recourse to the courts is the only way to bring attention to what is really a public policy problem—a political issue concerning a looming environmental catastrophe. One might think that the issue would be taken as seriously as freedom of speech, or the importance of defending values that one holds sacred. Fighting the despoiling of the land is an issue that could unify everyone in a divided nation and a divided world, but instead we argue about religion and the right to insult others.
What follows below is 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.


A Radiant Future: A Stage Play about France's Nuclear History

Two months before Charlie Hebdo became a famous name, I came across a youtube video of the French actor Nicolas Lambert performing his play Avenir Radieux (A Radiant Future). It was just a short clip, and it seems no other video recording was made of it, but I was intrigued. I ordered the book, read it, then contacted the publisher to ask if I could take it on as a translation project. The translation will be finished soon, so this is some advance publicity for the English edition. I’m not an agent for the publisher, but if someone out there in the publishing world is interested, they can contact me and I will put them in touch with the publisher (Editions L’Echappée, Paris) or the author. Part 1 is a review that appeared in Charlie Hebdo’s special nuclear edition in 2012, written by Fabrice Nicolino, one of the persons injured in the January 7th shootings. Part 2 is the promotional blurb from the French edition.

Part 1

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 lights up 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.[1]
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 little 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.[2] 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[3] 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 dumb asses 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.

[1] 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.
[2] A reader pointed out that 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 with many characters from the LA riots called Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.
[3] Eurodif refers to the uranium enrichment plant that was opened in 1973, built in France in partnership with other Western European countries--and Iran!

Part 2

From the back cover of the book’s French edition:

Nicolas Lambert, Avenir Radieux: Une Fission Française (Editions L’Echappée, 2012)
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 attacks 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.


Charlie Hebdo Special: The Nuclear Swindle

     As the French nation prepares for a massive rally in support of liberty and free speech in the wake of the January 7th murders, certain ironies cannot escape attention. The entire political establishment will be out for this rally, yet they were all targets in the past of Charlie Hebdo's pointed satire. Some of them voiced disgust and disdain when they were the targets, or they showed no interest in fixing the problems exposed in the journal. Good for them, I suppose, if they are now ready take criticism more seriously and pay free speech and democracy more regard.
Allons enfants de la Patrie/Le vrais terreur est AREVA!/
Contre nous de la tyrannie/ L'éolienne est levée/Entendez-vous dans les campagnes/
Mentir ces nucléocrates?/ Les rayons viennent jusque dans nos bras/
dans nos fils, nos compagnes
    Just in case anyone gets the impression that Charlie Hebdo did only crude satirical cartoons about religion, let's remember that these jokers had the courage to take on all sacred cows, even the ones with Iodine 131 and Strontium 90 in their milk.
     Below is the cover page of Charlie Hebdo's special nuclear issue from 2012. The French original of the cover page and accompanying text is here.
     The full issue does not appear to be available in digital format.

The Nuclear Swindle: 70 Years of French Atomic Radiation
Charlie Hebdo Responds to Montebourg*

(This link goes to a pdf file of the complete issue, still in French only. The journal appears to have no interest in reissuing it, and the back cover advises people to steal it if necessary, so go ahead. Download it, share it, translate it into your language).

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.


The Inconvenience of a Geothermic Energy Source Under France's Nuke Waste Dump

The French weekly newspaper Le Canard enchaîné provides aggressive and biting coverage of the nuclear establishment in a way that mainstream media refrain from doing. Le Canard has been in print since 1915, except for a period during the German occupation when it was forced to close. The journal had a moment of international fame in September 2013 when it ran satirical cartoons about Tokyo being awarded the 2020 Olympics in spite of Japan’s troubles containing its nuclear catastrophe.
Unfortunately for readers who would like easy access to its reporting, Le Canard has stuck to its policy of being print-only. There is a Le Canard enchaîné website, but it exists only to introduce the journal, sell subscriptions and occupy the domain name that imitators and detractors would like to possess.
Occasionally, I notice people in my social network sharing photos of pages from Le Canard (a previous one translated to English is here) and today I came across the following report about a fiasco at France’s nuclear waste disposal site in Bure. I’m posting this translation of content from Le Canard, hoping that they won’t mind the publicity and the fact that this sample is made available to English readers throughout the world so that they will be forewarned about how nuclear waste disposal projects always offer a false promise of a final solution for nuclear waste, along with pledges of jobs and economic development for the remote communities that are always exploited for these ventures.

Nuclear Waste on the Aquifer

by Professor Canardeau
translation of Des déchets (nucléaires) sur la nappe
Le Canard enchaîné
December 2014

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.

translation of Des déchets (nucléaires) sur la nappe
Le Canard enchaîné
December 2014

More information on this topic at Sortir du Nucléaire (in French only).

Update, January 19, 2015: The plaintiffs' statement about the hearing held on January 5, 2015