In denial of Fukushima, France is peddling nuclear exports to India: Laurence Hugues

Laurence Hugues

Laurence Hugues is a writer and an ecologist activist associated with the Greens in France. She is presently Deputy Mayor of a Parisian district and has worked many years for Green Members of the National Assembly of France. She has been specifically working on an enterprise liability law and building relationships between India and France which are not based on nuclear and arms trade.

This interview is part of the 7 interviews conducted by on 7 years of the accident. What did the Fukushima accident mean for France, which has the world’s largest nuclear industry? How did the government and industry respond?

Laurence Hugues: The French citizens were shocked by what happened in Fukushima. Many mourning gatherings happened all over France as a mark of solidarity for the Japanese people. It also had a major impact on the pro-nuclear scientists and engineers who until then had sincerely believed that such an accident couldn’t happen in such a developed country, with high security and implementation requirements and standards. Despite this, the French government, unlike the German government, has been very slow in drawing concrete conclusions from this tragic event. The State has been in constant denial of the dangers of nuclear energy. Let’s remember that after Tchernobyl, the official statement said that the irradiated cloud stopped at the French border! It’s shameful to see how in such a rationalistic country, the State commitment to nuclear can defy even scientific evidence! Nuclear power is also very costly in terms of public money. Right now, during peak hours, the electricity in Germany costs 28,64 €/MWh when in France it is 91,77 €/MWh. However, the French Government keeps saying that the phasing out of nuclear power has proved very costly to Germany! Has Fukushima played a role in the ongoing decline of the nuclear industry in France?

Laurence Hugues: Well, unfortunately, right now I cannot see the decline you are talking about. Historically, how strong has the resistance been against nuclear power in France? What role has it played?

Laurence Hugues: The anti-nuclear movement started with the development of nuclear production, after the first oil shock, in 1974. In 1977, the repression of the Creys-Malville protests against the Superphenix plant ended with one dead and many wounded. This was a very important moment in the activist history and the strengthening of a Green movement. Very recently the French government launched a very violent expulsion of the opponents of a major project of nuclear waste disposal in Bure. The young have joined the elders in the anti-nuclear fight, and it will keep going on till the last plant will be closed. What impact did Fukushima accident have in shaping the environmental debates in the EU?

Laurence Hugues: The environmental debates in Europe are also very much shaped by the climate changes issues. Some governments and nuclear lobbies try, against evidence, to convince the public that nuclear is a clean and renewable energy. It’s a massive scam scheme. Let’s remember that uranium is a limited resource. The extraction in Niger is also causing a silent tragedy in terms of public health. The question is not either to go back to coal plants, which are also very dangerous for the people and the environment, but to massively invest in real renewable energies such as wind and solar. The German made a smart move. The Polish have started fracking gas, which is also a big danger…Let’s see. This debate anyway has to be in a broader perspective. Can we keep wasting so much energy ? It’s time to move to sobriety, circular economy and energy efficiency. France has recently announced to reduce nuclear power in the country from 75% to 50% and EDF has declared shut downs will begin in 2029. How hopeful you are for such change and how do we ensure accountability?

Laurence Hugues: Emmanuel Macron is withdrawing from these commitments, including the closing of Fessenheim, the oldest plant. I am very worried that smart choices and investment in clean energies will be postponed again. We have already lost 40 years in terms of innovation and production, and we don’t even know the real cost of nuclear dismantlement for out-of-age plants. Not even mentioning nuclear waste and the sword we are hanging over the head of future generations. The French government has been pushing for Jaitapur project in India consisting of 6 EPR-design reactors. What are your major safety concerns with this project?

Laurence Hugues: EPR technology has been proved to be over expensive and inefficient. Does France want to damage its relationship with India with such a poisonous gift? Is it reasonable to plan the biggest nuclear plant ever in a seismic zone, so closed to Mumbai ? Does France want to be hold responsible of a new Bhopal ? What if India uses the plutonium for military production ? Should France take the risk to become an accomplice in breaching the non proliferation treaty ? Can France be deaf to the voices of the people in Jaitapur, farmers, peasants etc who do not want this plant ? NO is the answer to all these questions. In his recent interview, the French Ambassador to India has said that liability and cost issues remain unresolved for Jaitapur. Why is France insisting on a liability-free market?

Laurence Hugues: There India showed the way to the world with the nuclear liability bill. Actually it partly inspired a French law for corporate liability and duty of vigilance legislation for big companies activities abroad.

The American and the French nuclear lobbyists will do whatever they can to convince India to change this liability binding commitment. It seems that they don’t believe themselves in the liability of their own products…Speaking of costs and efficiency, studies show that small grid structures and renewable energy systems are a much better and faster choice to ensure a fair development and the electrification of rural areas. M.Modi and Macron made a major commitment for a Global Solar Alliance. May the civil societies in India and in France help them to keep their promises and forget about nuclear.


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