Nuclear-Free Future

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24 October 2018

Paulette and Didier Anger

Normandy’s northwest corner is graced with a nature reserve, but it’s the last untouched spot on the peninsula that juts out like a finger into the English Channel. To the north, lie the nuclear submarine port of Cherbourg and the La Hague nuclear reprocessing facility. A little further down the coastline are the two Flamanville nuclear power reactors, and a third one nearly completed. Not far is a nuclear waste site and further afield is the proposed Bure radioactive waste repository. Soaring overhead are high tension transmission wires from Flamanville that have sickened people and animals.

For years, trains from Germany traveled in and out of Valognes, bringing nuclear waste for reprocessing at La Hague, then returning the reprocessed waste to Germany. Ships departed Cherbourg taking reprocessed Japanese radioactive waste and MOX fuel back to Japan.

Paulette and Didier Anger have lived surrounded by this nuclear nightmare for decades, and they have spoken out and demonstrated against all of it for 46 years.Now they are tired and they have a right to be. After more than four decades at the head of their organization CRILAN— Comité de Réflextion, d’Information et de Lutte Anti Nucléaire — they are taking a step back. And they are calling on younger people to carry on the fight. There is still far too much to do.

Didier Anger is known all over the world as the godfather of the French anti-nuclear movement. In Normandy they call him “le loup blanc” a delightfully French expression whose literal translation is “the white wolf” but which describes someone who is “known to one and all.” As such, when Didier drives a visitor to see the local nuclear sites, gendarmes invariably appear in the rear view mirror, even though they know exactly who Didier is and what he is doing. What the gendarmes miss is that Didier is a kind and dedicated activist, a retired school teacher with a firm hand but a gentle touch, a painter and a former Green Party politician.

Paulette, like Didier, is a former school teacher, with sparkling eyes and a warm generosity of spirit. She is also the tech-savvy member of the team. While Didier prefers to turn his hand to painting, Paulette is on the computer writing and answering emails.

This venerable husband and wife team will be the first to tell you that they are part of a movement and that everything they have achieved is the result of a group effort. All of this is undeniably true, but it takes inspiration and dedication to keep the momentum and the ideas flowing, and Didier and Paulette are not short of either.

Many of their actions have been the more traditional ones — huge protests and occupations, both locally around Flamanville and in Cherbourg, where 30,000 people have been known to turn out.

But sometimes their exploits range to the extraordinary, or even whimsical. This year, on the anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, they hosted former Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, who came right to Flamanville and trudged with them across the windswept beach for a bit of nuclear “sightseeing.” One year they built a “wall of lies” — mur de mensonge — along the route to the Flamanville-3 nuclear construction site.

And then there was the gravestone. It was erected in honor of “the unknown irradiated ones” and it weighed 100 kg. To them it was a mighty monument to the truth. To the nuclear-powered authorities, it was an eyesore. So one night it vanished. The CRILAN activists chuckled at how much trouble these officials must have taken to remove it.

Now some of that fun — and a lot of anxiety — has come to an end. The Angers will remain the oracle on the French nuclear state. But they can also sit on their cobbled patio enjoying three kinds of wine and four kinds of cheeses as they welcome visitors. After that, it’s off in the car again with Didier. But this time it’s to see the glorious Normandy countryside. It’s an important journey because, as the Angers make sure to tell you, that spectacular scenery, the ancient buildings with their slate roofs, the grazing dairy cows, and the history that abounds in the region, are an important reminder of what will be lost if the dangerous nuclear installations continue to operate and proliferate.