Resistance to nuclear waste in Bure, France

October 4, 2017

The latest incident in an atmosphere of repression against growing opposition to “permanent” burial of France’s high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) brought Bure, France (near Nancy), into the news. On Sept. 20, 150 police showed up at 6:30 AM. Their purpose was to disrupt a many-years campaign of resistance against a deep geological HLRW dump in the area. The police arrested two and held citizens in their trailers and rooms for 10 hours.

According to the House of Resistance in Bure ():

“The cops seized practically the whole office in the house of resistance in Bure, including the photocopier (luckily they didn’t take our cat though) and loads of other stuff. Windows were smashed, doors forced, one person detained, habitants intimidated, police checks, houses quite far from Bure also raided and people were asked questions about their private life.”

Some other locations subjected to simultaneous raids, included Lumeville, Commercy, and Verdun—near Nancy—and Mandres, near Paris.

Andrew Blowers, in his book The Legacy of Nuclear Power (Routledge, 2016), chose Bure as one of four locations where said legacy is being played out. And Ben Cramer and Camille Saïsset in La Descente aux Enfers Nucléaires [Descent into Nuclear Hell] (L’Esprit Frappeur, 2004) expose the long-time economic depression of Bure, along with the official blandishment that a nuclear dump will vitalize the community.


Blowers analyzes four nuclear legacy areas[1] as being “peripheral,” a category with four characteristics: (1) geographically remote, (2) economically needy, (3) non-conforming and powerless politically (somewhat unaware), and (4) socially homogeneous. Such interlocking theses display, in the case of Bure, an example of powerlessness in the face of a government-supported industry that refuses to stop making HLRW and has chosen a peripheral community to dump it in.

For many years, the Bure House of Resistance served as the hub of local opposition to a national nuclear waste research center established 20 years ago, which is now, by law, the permanent disposal site (CIGEO). The last six years have seen regular peaceful marches and demonstrations against the planned dump. As far back as 2012, in dynamic clashes with masked resisters the police used tear gas, pepper spray and flash grenades, resulting in serious injuries.

The nuclear waste agency began clearing trees ahead of obtaining necessary permits; but the locals forced them out of the woods in the summer of 2016. Since then the critical forest site has been occupied by resisters. The “owls,” as they call themselves, have built tree houses and shacks in the woods to establish residency. As one disenchanted French person said: Thanks for shooting our future.

September’s raids were a setback to the anti-nuclear activism, which certainly will continue.


Although Blowers didn’t include Yucca Mountain, Nev., in his four peripheral sites, it certainly qualifies. The choice of Yucca Mountain for the geologic disposal of U.S. nuclear waste started with forcing it into peripherality—declaring it an arid, empty wasteland. That the Western Shoshone Indians owned the land, lived well on it and had farms, grazing sheep and plenty of water (from knowing where to look) was immaterial to the legislative power that rammed it through without considering at least seven other possibilities. There was no scientific investigation as to the best choice.[2] Instead, Congress made Yucca Mountain the site and has been trying to make it fit the criteria for an HLRW dump ever since, including easing up on the requirements.

Senator Harry Reid mounted a successful campaign to kill Yucca Mountain, but now he has left Congress and the trumpery is in power; so the four criteria for peripheral communities have been forced upon the Shoshone.

(1) Their sheep herds, in the wisdom of the U.S. Agriculture Department, were declared too large and were slaughtered in great numbers. That’s how the population became economically needy—even hungry.[3]

(2) Of course the Indians were oppressed from the beginning so they fulfilled the requirement of being politically powerless.

(3) And they were culturally homogeneous—having lived in the Southern Nevada/Southeastern California desert for generations.

(4) Geographically remote? Most white people think so.

Yet the Southwest Indians do not stop resisting U.S. government power over their sacred mountain turned into a contaminated, dirty water nuclear dump.

In Bure, Yucca Mountain and Gorleben, Germany, the opposition to foisting an HLRW dump on the people has been fierce. Sellafield, UK, and Hanford, Wash., have been more accepting. But the unanswerable question remains: What do we do with HLRW? The first answer should be “Stop making it.” But there is no answer to the question, “Where shall we put it?”


If you would like to become involved in determining what to do with high-level nuclear waste, please go to the website, click on campaigns and choose “Don’t Waste America.” You will find many suggestions and maps and an ongoing list of possibilities. In Europe anti-nuclear active organizations are in every country. Wikipedia is a good start. Canada, also, has ongoing information in conjunction with U.S. activists, particularly in the Great Lakes Basin. In Illinois, the U.S. state presently harboring more nuclear waste than any other, you can access the Nuclear Energy Information Service at

—January, Oct. 3, 2017

[1] Hanford, Wash.; Gorleben, Germany; Sellafield (formerly Windscale), England; and La Hague and Bure, France.

[2] See “What’s Wrong with Yucca Mountain.”

[3] See The Tainted Desert: Environmental and Social Ruin in the American West by Valerie Kuletz, Routledge, 1998).

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