French nuclear threat: invisible menace

Has anyone noticed the unsubtle political jockeying over which country gets to host the new fusion energy research facility offically known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)? It finally went to France, over the predictable objections of Washington. Writes The Economist, June 30:

ITER is a joint project between America, most of the European Union, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea. For the past 18 months, work was at a standstill while the member states wrangled over where to site the reactor in what was generally recognised as a proxy for the debate over the war in Iraq. America was thought to support the placing of ITER in Japan in return for Japan's support in that war. Meanwhile, the Russians and Chinese were supporting France which, like them, opposed the American-led invasion. That France was eventually chosen owes much to the fact that the European Union promised to support a suitable Japanese candidate as the next director general of ITER.

But the article notes that the ostensible goal of the project—commercially viable fusion energy—remains a long way off. Boosters crow that fusion power uses water for fuel and produces no waste, but we are not convinced that heating gas to temperatures higher than those found in the Sun is a particularly safe way to generate electricity. And the last thing France needs is more nuclear reactors—the country already has 58 conventional fission reactors, second only to the US with 110 (and a much larger territory and population). France also has one of the world's most ambitious nuclear weapons programs, a fact neatly overlooked as the nation has been embraced as a paragon of peaceful civilization by anti-war forces worldwide since Chirac (for purely cynical reasons of inter-imperial rivalry) stood up to Bush on the Iraq adventure. France has conducted over 150 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests at Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia, almost completely destroying the atoll and leaving a legacy of radioactive contamination, a fact not forgotten, at least, by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The last French nuclear tests were in 1995, five years after the Russians and even the US had abandoned live weapons testing, and the French president at the time was the same Jacques Chirac who now plays peacenik to the barbaric Américaines. (CNN, Dec. 28, 1995) These tests sparked a little intifada by the colonized people of Tahiti, the territory's central island, which was roughly put down by French colonial gendarmes. When Greenpeace sent boats into the test zone in protest of the atomic franco-farts in 1985, French commandos staged a terrorist attack, blowing up the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in the harbor at Aukland, New Zealand, killing one on board—an episode today forgotten by nearly everybody except Greenpeace.

Another French colonial holding in the Pacific, about 1,500 miles east of Tahiti, is New Caledonia, or Kanaky, which has been the scene of a long and bittter independence struggle, complete with French massacres of the indigenous population as recently as the 1980s. A 1988 peace accord with the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) pledged a referendum on independence within ten years, but this has been repeatedly postponed—most recently until 2015—with the usual fudging on whether only native residents or also colonists will get to vote. The indigenous Kanaks now represent only 45% of the territory's population (BBC, March 24, 2004). Too bad the world doesn't give a shit about them. At least the Palestinians get news coverage, even if it doesn't do them much good. But then it is far more fashionable to be oppressed by Jews than by French.

Then there's the whole question of French complicity in the Rwanda genocide (and now again, to a lesser extent, that in Darfur). The world pays little note as France has conducted a whole series of dirty secret wars in Africa, as grisly as those of the US in Latin America— most recently in Ivory Coast. As we have noted before, one of the worst tragedies of the Iraq war is that it has allowed France to pose as a defender of world peace.

Right-wing yahoos on our side of the Atlantic are already calling France the next Iran, demonizing the French in simple xenophobic terms while positively glorifying US nuclear ambitions. This will, of course, serve us poorly in opposing the almost equally sickening Francophilia which has infected the anti-war forces globally since 2003.

See our last post on France.