(October 24, 2003) On 9 August, taking advantage of the summer "silence", the French Ministry of Economy, Finances and Industry published a decree (1) stipulating that information related to physical protection, emergency planning or transports of any "nuclear materials" will, from now on, present a character of secret for national defense and will be hit with "forbidden".
(595.5551) CRIIRAD - The text of the decree is very short, but its scope is very large. Indeed, according to the law, are named "nuclear" all the materials that contain fissionable, fertile or fusionable elements such as uranium, plutonium, thorium, lithium-6, deuterium and tritium. Thus, all types of nuclear fuel and most of nuclear waste are concerned. So, the secret defense extends from the nuclear fuel processing to reprocessing and storage. Only the extraction of uranium is excluded from the secret, but it has no incidence as France imports today all its ores.
All that concerning supervision, confinement, accountancy, and transport of those materials is henceforth classified, like all the data related to the emergency planning drills or the vulnerability of devices. The decree stresses that the interdict applies to all media, from simple spoken information up to computer file.
So a simple decree sets up, without precedent, a restriction of the freedom of expression and of the right to information about nuclear risks. It is a complete side of the civilian nuclear activities that escapes from the democratic control and are treated like military activities.
This decision is even less understandable when one knows that France has already at its disposal a complete set of juridical tools allowing to protect the confidentiality of sensitive data.
When Outlaw make law
Effectively, the true goals are not eventual terrorists but NGOs and reporters who publish data that the State and operators judge disturbing. In fact, the incriminated decree was written on the request of Areva-Cogéma group; and in their hurry to satisfy this request, the authorities went even beyond what was demanded.
The "parti pris" (prejudice) of the French State is striking: so when, in violation of the law of 1991 on radioactive waste, Cogéma piles up on its site of La Hague foreign nuclear waste much longer than the authorized duration, sanction is impossible. Why? Because 12 years after this law has been published, no decree of application has been made! French Administration had no time to elaborate texts that allow to sanction Areva-Cogéma's offences, but now managed to find some to silence NGO that could denounce it.
Seriously threatened NGOs
In fact, persons or organisms who infringe this new order draw upon themselves a very heavy penalty of up to 7 years of imprisonment or a fine of 100 000 Euros.
Some years ago, after the CRIIRAD laboratory checked the radiation given off by wagons that carried spent fuel, we warned railway employees and users on the radiation they received without any knowledge. Renewing this type of intervening could nowadays cost a awful lot!
One can always silence the "warners of danger" (lanceurs d'alerte), but our imposed "silence" will be deceitful: to suppress information on risks does not suppress the risks itself, not at the least. To prevent Greenpeace from warning the inhabitants of Châlons-sur-Saône that trucks carrying plutonium are stuck in the very heart of the city does not let disappear the dangers of this transport.
Moreover, who will believe that terrorists who choose to attack a transport of radioactive waste would need information from NGOs in order to accomplish their goal? The decree's aim is not to protect Areva-Cogéma from terrorists, but from citizens' control!
Resistance in action
In reaction to the publishing of the "secret defense" decree, the CRIIRAD organized a national petition that is now carried along by circa forty associations, federations of associations and syndicates in order to request the abolition of the decree and to mobilize the people. It seems to work as thousands of signatures from all France are gathered.
Moreover, the Council of State was seized by two appeals for annulment in early October, one from environmental NGOs (Greenpeace, CRIIRAD and WISE-Paris), the other from journalist protection groups "Reporters sans Frontières" (Reporters without Borders) and "Journalistes pour la Nature et l'Environnement (Journalists for the Nature and Environment).
It's important that French society reacts strongly and quickly because the problem goes further and beyond nuclear questions. In a democracy, authorities must ensure a just equilibrium between the right to information and the restrictions that are brought up in the name of the national security. When excessive and unjustified limitations are introduced, when they do not answer general interest but specific interests of an industrial group, one falls in the arbitrary... and arbitrary calls for revenge and violence which is what French authorities claim to prevent.
[This article was written by Corinne Castanier and translated by Valérie Huet. Commission for independent research and information about radiation (CRIIRAD) is a French NGO created in 1986 against official lies about the Chernobyl contamination. CRIIRAD possess its own private laboratory specialized in radioactivity measurement.]
(1) Decree related to the protection of national defense secret in the field of nuclear materials protection and control, signed on 24 July 2003, publish in official journal of the Republic on 9 August 2003.