The
Nuclear-Free Future
Award

in the Category


SOLUTIONS

is presented to

BRUNO BARRILLOT

FRANCE

New York City
29 September 2010

Bruno Barrillot

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When Bruno Barrillot received the news that he would be one of this year’s Nuclear-Free Future Award laureates, he reacted in customary fashion: modest, self-effacing, puzzled by the jury’s selection. His decades of work and activism were a matter of course, nothing exemplary. Barrillot turned seventy this past spring, a white-haired, thin Frenchman of diminutive height with the spirited, intelligent gaze of a rebel. Few of Barrillot’s countrymen know who he is – the ‘Little Priest’ (his nickname) prefers to influence the course of affairs from behind the scenes, stepping only into the spotlight as a messenger of the outcomes he advocates. Were it not for Barrillot’s years of activism and brilliant lobbying efforts in Paris, the recent French law to compensate victims of nuclear testing would almost certainly never have become a reality.

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Indigenous peoples of the Pacific were the frontline victims of nuclear weapons testing by France, Britain and the United States. The lonely atolls of the central and south Pacific were considered ’empty’ spaces perfect for optimizing nuclear payloads. A French Defense Ministry report says France conducted 46 atmospheric nuclear tests from 1966-1974 and 147 underground nuclear tests from 1975-1996, with most of the testing occurring at Mururoa. As recently as 2003, then-President Jacques Chirac told a Tahitian newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti that the atomic tests had “no effect on health”. Against a backdrop of island protest – Tahiti lies some 750 nautical miles southeast of Mururoa – Chirac said: “There are no health consequences, either in the short-term or long-term.”

With the French nuclear testing compensation law, one of Bruno Barrillot’s long-lived dreams became reality: the legislation amounts to a confession of guilt – La Grande Nation’s nuclear warhead testing program had indeed endangered the health and lives of the nearly 150,000 people living in the Pacific region. The French legislation recanted decades of disinformation and whitewash.

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“Our mission is to open the public to alternatives to the atom by facilitating access to concrete information conveying the attendant risks to health and the environment.”

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Bruno Barrillot’s course in life was changed radically in July of 1985 by the Rainbow Warrior affair, when it came out that French foreign intelligence services had sabotaged the Greenpeace flagship in the New Zealand harbor of Auckland in order to prevent the vessel from undertaking a protest voyage to Mururoa. Angered, his trust in the government badly shaken, Barrillot, together with Jean-Luck Thierry, nuclear expert of Greenpeace France, and Patrice Bouveret, quickly founded the “Center for Documentation and Research on Peace and Conflict” (CDRPC). The mission of the organization, Barrillot tells us, is “to open the public to alternatives to the atom by facilitating access to concrete information conveying the attendant risks to health and the environment.” Headquartered in Lyon, CDRPC has developed a reputation as an expert independent research institution on issues of nuclear policy and national security.

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Earlier in life Bruno Barrillot had worked as a Priest specializing in helping conscientious objectors negotiate the French legal system. But when French bishops issued a collective statement characterizing the government’s policy of nuclear deterrence as “acceptable”, Barrillot left the church to begin life anew as a Lyon journalist writing for the leftist publication Libération. He was in his late forties.

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On June 13, 1995, after Mr. Chirac incited global protests by announcing that he would break a three-year moratorium and resume nuclear testing, Barrillot’s journalistic focus shifted towards investigating the living conditions of French Polynesians. During his many expeditions to the islands of the region, Barrillot assembled dossiers of personal interviews, weaving many accounts into his CDRPR reports. One could say that Barrillot’s research jump-started two victims of nuclear testing organizations: in Papeete, Tahiti, Association Moruroa e tatou, and in Lyon, Association de veterans des essais nucléaires. Bruno Barrillot was the Director of CDRPR until 2005. Since then he has worked throughout Polynesia on behalf of regional goverments to help uncover the true legacy of nuclear testing. Presently, in collaboration with an international network of experts, Barrillot is performing lobbyist actions in a fresh direction: to come up with a set of international standards to parse the real consequences of nuclear weapons testing. The ‘Little Priest’ entertains no thought of retirement.

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– Suzanne Krause
English version: Craig Reishus