“We won’t be scapegoats!”

A new tongue-in-cheek rebellion has risen in France, but the cause is deadly serious

By Linda Pentz Gunter

In France, civil disobedience and defiance of authority — and authoritarianism — is in the national DNA. We have seen it most recently in the demonstrations against the raising of the retirement age, and against proposed agricultural reservoirs known as mega-basins. Before that it was the “yellow vests”, angered at a rise in fuel prices. Further back came the Resistance during World War II, and even further back, of course, the Revolution of 1789.

The French anti-nuclear movement is no exception and has engaged in protests that deliver considerable numbers and abundant creativity — and sometimes a lot of useful tractors as well.

It’s no surprise then to learn that such continued defiance has now spread: to goats. 

A goat ZAD has sprung up in Jobourg, near the La Hague nuclear reprocessing site on the French Normandy coast. (Photo: Piscine Nucléaire Stop Facebook page.)

Before continuing, it’s necessary to explain what a ZAD is. In French, it stands for Zone À Défendre (zone to defend.) ZADs are usually occupations or blocades created by citizens protecting something they deem precious from development or destruction. There are scores of ZADs across France, deemed illegal by French authorities. ZADs have sometimes won, most notably at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, where an unpopular airport project was stopped.

But raids on ZADs can sometimes turn violent, and authorities can over-react as they did in February 2018 at Bure, when 500 gendarmes went in to remove just 15 anti-nuclear activists occupying and attempting to protect the forested site targeted to become the country’s high-level radioactive waste dump.

Dressed in riot gear, the gendarmes used bulldozers, trucks, helicopters, drones and chainsaws to confront the occupiers, self-described “owls” who had been living in tree houses and lookout towers for the past 18 months.

Now, activists around the La Hague nuclear reprocessing site on the northern Cherbourg peninsula, have redefined the ZAD acronym to stand for Zone À Déchets  (Waste Zone), and specifically radioactive waste.

Contrary to popular propaganda, nuclear reprocessing is not recycling. This has never been more evident than in the current crisis at La Hague, where the irradiated fuel pools are now full to capacity. Part of the reason is the country’s insistence on producing mixed-oxide reactor fuel from the plutonium and uranium separated at La Hague. So much of it has proven defective, that is has been returned to La Hague, filling up the fuel pools.

A slowdown in reprocessing due to technical failures has also hastened the overcrowding of La Hague’s four spent fuel pools with excess irradiated fuel rods. These pools risk saturation by 2030 and the French safety authority has criticized La Hague owner, Orano’s suggestion that it could pack the pools more densely as this raises safety risks.

The owner of the French nuclear fleet, EDF, is responsible for managing the waste fuel their reactors produce. Its solution to the overcrowding at La Hague is to build a new fuel pool at the site, at a cost of $1.37 billion.

And that has locals up in arms — and hooves.

Normandy, the province in which La Hague is located, is strongly agricultural. Cows — and dairy products — abound. As do goats. While those still domesticated produce cheese, there is also a significant and famous wild goat population, known as les chèvres des fossés, that ranges freely on the coastal cliffs.

The wild goats of the La Hague peninsula, have formed their own ZAD, announced Piscine Nucléaire Stop in an April Fools’ Day stunt. (Photo: Annie Ernouf/Wikimedia Commons)

Accordingly, a new La Hague opposition group, Piscine Nucléaire Stop (Stop the Nuclear Fuel Pool), found a way to communicate the threat a new fuel would pose to agriculture and the environment by recruiting some goats to their cause.

In an amusing action that was posted on Facebook and was covered in the press, the activists placed an array of artistic — and realistic — cut-out goats at an intersection in the town of Jobourg, one of the communities that would be affected by the health and environmental risks of a new nuclear fuel pool. The town gives its name to the famous wild Jobourg goats and has erected a statue in their honor.

Then the goats put out their own statement. It read:

“We nanny and billy goats of Jobourg, claim our right to decide the fate of our land, and affirm today our opposition to the EDF spent fuel storage pool project. 

“Piscine Nucléaire Stop recently contacted us to warn us about the disastrous plans of the industrial group in La Hague. After participating in an information meeting organized by the collective – a meeting of an exceptionally high educational level – we decided to organize ourselves and join the fight.

“You are thus witnessing the birth of the first ZAD – Zone À Déchets (Waste Zone ) – on the peninsula, a new bastion of the uprising against waste fuel pools, defended by experienced fighters, tenacious spirits, and hard-headed activists.

“Our dismay and our anger are on a par with the contempt shown by EDF, which obviously did not consider it necessary, or even appropriate, to take us into account in the calculations for their project. Such lack of consideration is a real shame, and an attack on our dignity.

“In addition, the latest report from our scientific delegation points out numerous technical and fundamental inconsistencies, and raises worrying environmental prospects. The first concerns the quality of the grass, essential to our health, but also a symbol of our ancestral and even constitutional and therefore inviolable right to graze in peace. 

“And what about water quality?

“We have lived on these lands for a long time. We lived on the farms, we were abandoned, we wandered, walked the coast, the cliffs, the meadows.

“We have escaped extinction. We are survivors. We know these lands and every small detail about them. We have nowhere to go, in other words, and you can’t hunt us. We are part of La Hague.

“We have a statue in our likeness on a roundabout in town, called Honeysuckle. It’s almost a canonization!

“The leaders of this industry have made mistakes, and now want us to pay the price. We refuse to be the scapegoats of this garbage operation!”

The goats are not alone, though. Humans continue to rally in town squares and to watchdog the fuel pool threat. And members of the collective are also engaged in opposing French plans to extend the licenses of current reactors and to build new ones with, as they point out, absolutely no consideration of what will happen to the radioactive waste.

The protests against the proposed new fuel pool at La Hague will continue, with our without goats. (Photo: Piscine Nucléaire Stop Facebook page.)

“While the question of relaunching a nuclear program and the construction of new EPRs is being discussed, not a word is said about the question of waste,” said Guy Vastel, member of the collective, in an interview with France Bleu.

“The issue is shoved under the carpet, just like the inhabitants of the land where they would stored.”

That land will continue to be defended, by “hard-headed activists” both human and bovine. Vive la résistance!

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear and writes for and curates Beyond Nuclear International. 

Headline photo of Jobourg Fossés goats by Eponimm/Wikimedia Commons.

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