Théodore Monod: French civil servant, explorer, scientist and naturalist

Théodore Monod: French civil servant, explorer, scientist and naturalist who spoke out against nuclear weapons and nuclear energy

From the obituary for Theodore Monod in The Telegraph, November 24, 2000:

… Monod finally returned to Paris in 1965, to take up a chair of African Ichthyology at the Musée d'histoire naturelle. He did not confine himself to writing about fish, however… He spoke out regularly against pollution, and took stands on many subjects besides. In 1960, he was one of the 121 who signed a protest against the use of torture by the French authorities in Algeria, even though at the time he was in government employment and forbidden by law from co-operating with such movements… Every August 6 from 1983 he went to Taverny, the command center of French strategic services, and undertook a four-day-long fast in memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki… Frank in his views, he would readily agree to be interviewed and to appear on television to take part in discussions. He styled himself a humanist and a pacifist, declaring that he was "violently non-violent… Monod's many books included Les déserts (1973), L'émeraude des Garamantes: Souvenirs d'un saharien (1984) and Mémoires d'un Naturaliste Voyageur (1990)… He was awarded gold medals by the Société de Géographique, the Royal Geographical Society and the American Geographical Society. He won the Haile Selassie Prize for African Research, and was appointed a Grand officier de la Légion d'honneur. [1]

Although I am a civil servant, I persist, right or wrong, in considering myself a free man. Though I have sold a part of my intellect to the State, I haven’t rendered unto it my heart or my soul… And in fact it is rendering a service unto Caesar to look him straight in the eye and say no. That can lead him to reflect. After all, Caesar too has a soul. [2]

-- Theodore Monod, Le dernier des explorateurs

“Nuclear energy was a considerably imprudent venture that France jumped into with headlong abandon.”

(this segment is a translation of the article and book excerpt published by Sortir du Nucléaire)

When he passed away in 2000, Theodore Monod had been recognized as one of the greatest French explorers, scientists and naturalists. He was a specialist in desert environments, author of many famous works, and he was a humanist and a committed ecologist. In The Seeker of the Absolute (Le chercheur d’absolu) he wrote:

Nuclear energy was a considerably imprudent venture that France jumped into with headlong abandon. Other countries, more informed, reversed course: Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, the United States…

France possesses the greatest volume of nuclear discharges in Europe. It rots the ecological fabric. Justice has ruled: the capital of these radioactive wastes will be located in Digueville, in la Manche. The total is astronomical, close to 70,000 tons of French wastes, not including those that will come from abroad…

We can fear another Chernobyl, anywhere, anytime. Information [about Chernobyl] was falsified to the point that they said the radioactive cloud hadn’t crossed the Rhine when it was understood that it had come down over France.

La Hague has become Europe’s nuclear garbage can, but the television reassures us. All is for the best, according to ANDRA (l’Agence nationale de gestion des déchets radioactifs), which has determined where the garbage will be stored. This organization is on a quest for an eternal resting place for it, but it is difficult. They have to take account of seismic fault lines, the movement of tectonic plates, and soil types from sandstone to clay. Humans may have a short memory, but not the Earth. Radioactive wastes will end up in geological formations that are supposedly “stable.” They will be there for millions of years because the wastes are long-lived. Yet the earth is in perpetual motion, at the surface and below. Good people who are short on memory but long on ego will sleep peacefully on this earthly waste bin with its promise of solidity. It matters little that the containers will eventually leak, as the public has a limited concept of the future. Fifty or one hundred years seems to be an immense span of time. For a scientist, this is a spec in the hourglass of Time. I’m not a pessimist; I’m just clairvoyant. [3]


[1] Obituary : Theodore Monot, The Telegraph, November 24, 2000.
[2] Jean-Marie Pelt, Théodore Monot, « Le dernier des explorateurs? » dans La Cannelle et le panda (Fayard, 1999).
[3] Théodore Monod, Le chercheur d’absolu (éditions du Cherche-Midi, 1997), p. 60-65.

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