Protest and painting

Didier and Paulette Anger are the godparents of the French anti-nuclear movement

By Linda Pentz Gunter

In English, when we use the word “godfather”, it conjures up a menacing figure, the lead hit-man from the mafia, fierce and dangerous. Didier Anger is known all over the world as the godfather of the anti-nuclear movement in France, and you could hardly find anyone less fitting of that tough guy gangster image. Instead, Didier Anger is a kind and dedicated activist, a retired school teacher with a firm hand but a gentle touch, a painter and a Green Party politician.

“Godmother,” on the other hand, evokes a magical matronly woman with a wand who can make everything right with the world. This, in fact, fits Paulette Anger perfectly. In partnership with Didier, she is the “godmother” of the French anti-nuclear movement. Also a former school teacher, her sparkling spirit and generous warmth epitomize that character who we hope and believe can guide us to a happy-ever-after ending.

Didier and Paulette Anger are still looking for that happy ending to the nuclear power story. They have dedicated most of their adult lives to getting us there. When Didier was drawn into nuclear opposition, it was not for the reasons that most people take up the fight. “It was not about radiation and health back then or the effect on the environment but because I was active in the trade union movement,” Didier told Swiss journalist, Martin Arnold in an interview for Mankind and the Atom published in German. “I saw persecution and suppression in the nuclear sector when workers tried to organize,” he said.

Paulette and Didier 1

Didier and Paulette Anger (Photo: Kolin Kobayashi)

The couple reside in Normandy, France, in the belly of the French nuclear beast. To the north of them, on the Cherbourg peninsula, sits the biggest blight of nuclear France, the La Hague reprocessing facility.  “The currents there are very strong so I assume they chose the site because it can disperse the liquid radioactive wastes into the sea very quickly,” Didier told Arnold, not without a hint of sarcasm.

Close by is the port of Cherbourg where nuclear-powered submarines are made. Just a few miles west of them, on the Normandy coastline, are the two operating Flamanville nuclear reactors and the embattled third one, still under construction. There is a nuclear waste dump in the region as well. And the Angers have been there to oppose all of it for 46 years. “We are dealing with a whole system of lies, secrecy, concealment, intimidation and threats,” says Didier.

The husband and wife team began their opposition to all things nuclear in 1972 and were co-founders in 1975 of CRILAN— Comité de Réflextion, d’Information et de Lutte Anti Nucléaire (in French); Committee of Reflection, Information and the Anti-Nuclear Fight, (in English). The CRILAN Flamanville chapter launched in 1980. Earlier this year, the pair announced their retirement from the organization’s leadership.

They 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.

With CRILAN, they have initiated, led and/or participated in:

  • Numerous protests and site occupations against the construction of the first two Flamanville reactors, often drawing 7,000 people at a time or more;
  • Massive demonstrations and marches at every stage of development of the La Hague reprocessing and waste facilities, with rallies of 30,000 people and more in Cherbourg;
  • Renewed protests and marches against the third EPR Flamanville reactor, still under construction;
  • Protests against the installation of high-tension electricity lines for Flamanville;
  • Demonstrations to block incoming rail transportation of nuclear waste to the La Hague reprocessing facility — successfully interrupting rail transports of waste from Germany;
  • Opposition to the ANDRA radioactive waste storage site in the region;
  • Protests against the proposed French high-level waste deep repository at Bure; and
  • Opposition to the production of nuclear-powered submarines at the port of Cherbourg.

However, CRILAN does not stop with demonstrations alone. They have brought lawsuits, that despite the power of the French state —  which makes success for them rare — have succeeded in delaying some projects.

They have conducted scores of creative actions and events and miss no opportunity to better inform the public. Probably only Didier and Paulette could have managed to establish a permanent summertime information stand right in the heart of Flamanville port on the main pathway up the hill from where the construction site can be viewed. Thanks to a friendly resident, who accommodated the booth at the side of his house, every pedestrian passing by was forced to take in the anti-EPR message — and could stop to pick up information.

Didier loves press conferences, large and small, and never misses a chance to introduce a visiting activist to the French media, which is largely in the pocket of the French nuclear state.  Whether two reporters or 20 attend is of no consequence to Didier as long as they get to hear the facts and the truth about the pro-nuclear propaganda too often fed to the French press.

CRILAN has hosted delegations from all over the world, including, in March 2018, the former Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan, who came right to Flamanville itself around the time of the seventh anniversary of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power disaster.


A protest at La Hague around the Fukushima disaster anniversary. (CRILAN)

If you need to know anything at all about La Hague or Flamanville, then the Angers are your oracle and source. The couple have presented at numerous international anti-nuclear conferences, have spoken out at meetings, engaged with officials, litigated, and protested. They have also toured overseas, including to Japan, the U.S., Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium.

The Angers have collaborated with Jacques Cousteau, famously anti-nuclear himself. They were honored in 1975 by the well-known and beloved cartoonist Cabu, who came to Flamanville and depicted their local referendum “for or against” the construction of the reactors, in the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. (Cabu was tragically among those slaughtered by terrorists at the Charlie Hebdo Paris offices on 7 January 2015.)

Not without a sense of humor, CRILAN was responsible in 2009 for erecting a 100 kg granite headstone dedicated to “the unknown irradiated ones” to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. About six weeks later, the gravestone was mysteriously taken in the middle of the night, leaving the CRILAN activists to speculate with amusement as to just what kind of equipment the authorities were obliged to deploy to remove the heavy stone.

There have been upbeat occasions as well, including festivals, theatrical presentations and street clowns. A “wall of lies” was built along the route to the Flamanville-3 nuclear construction site in 2007, a joint action between communities opposing the reactor and the high-tension lines that would need to be installed to transport its electricity.

Didier also enjoyed a political career for a time. He was a founder of his region’s Green Party, then served as a regional elected official before becoming a Green Party member of the European parliament from 1989-1992.

Unsurprisingly, all of this has earned Didier the moniker — “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 takes a visitor to see the local nuclear sites, a gendarme invariably appears in the rear view mirror, even though they know exactly who Didier is and what he is doing.

Away from the fray, at their home in Les Pieux, you will be treated to a viewing of Didier’s lovely paintings and a meal of Paulette’s delicious cooking, replete with a selection of wines and a series of cheeses. And then you will be off on a tour — not just of the ugly nuclear sites but of the glorious Normandy countryside. It’s an important itinerary, 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.

Didier and Paulette are not alone in their fight. But without their leadership and inspiration, many may never have joined or persisted, as they have done, and for so many decades. In 2015, when they produced a detailed and colorful booklet narrating the 40-year history of CRILAN and its activities, the Angers included a telling note at the end.

“This overview of the 40 years of existence of CRILAN is not about nostalgia; it is a call to continue and to go forward.”

To read more about CRILAN and the Angers (in French) visit the CRILAN website.

Cover photo of Didier Anger at an exhibition of his paintings courtesy of Ouest-France.

If you’d like to be the first to read stories like these, sign up for our Monday email digest. We will send you a very brief synopsis of the new stories on our site, with links to read them and learn more. Sign up today!

%d bloggers like this: