Nuclear research at CNRS: Beware the academic guard dogs!

by Thierry Ribault, researcher at CNRS

Last March, Alain Fuchs, the chairman of CNRS (The National Center for Scientific Research), entrusted the “mission for citizen science” to Marc Lipinski, director of research at CNRS, and regional councillor from the French green party, Europe Ecology-Les Verts (EE-LV). “Convinced that research can at once remain free and be responsive to social demand,” M. Lipinski considers it “necessary today to establish a dialogue on equal footing between researchers and citizens.” He is to propose to CNRS “mechanisms, to be implemented in 2014, aimed at favoring dialogue and producing closer ties between research and citizens, mainly taking the form of and organized through associations.”

The announcement of this mission, of which I am not a supporter, has come under virulent attack, particularly from several members of the French Academy of Sciences. As a researcher at CNRS, I consider it my responsibility to shed light on the bad faith of these detractors, whose objective is none other than to exert political pressure on the CNRS, notably in the field of nuclear research and associated activities.
In an opinion column published on March 23rd 2013 by L’Union Rationaliste (The Rationalist Union), Edouard Brézin, also a member of the French Academy of Sciences, refers to the mission as “a political manœuvre” and claims that “the creation of a ‘Citizen Science mission’ by the chair of CNRS, and the entrusting of said mission to Marc Lipinski, a researcher who is simultaneously a politician with responsibilities to a political party, EE-LV, constitutes an error and a danger.”

I should mention here that the the link to the text “created on Saturday March 23rd 2013, written by Edouard Brézin, Hélène Langevin and Michel Henry, for the bureau of the Rationalist Union” was recently replaced by a link to the same text with the authors’ names removed. I have, however, retained a copy of the original PDF of the text with the names of the signatories for the perusal of interested readers.
We should also mention that the second signatory to that contribution, the nuclear physicist Hélène Langevin, is a prominent specialist promoting nuclear energy, as we can see from her 2003 declarations at the US Department of Energy. At that time, Hélène Langevin-Joliot was presented as coming “from a remarkable family of distinguished scientists. Her grandparents, Marie and Pierre Curie, won the Nobel Prize in physics together with Henri Becquerel in 1903, for the discovery of radium. Marie Curie won a second Nobel Prize, in chemistry, in 1911. And Langevin-Joliot’s parents, Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1935, for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. ” No doubt thanks to her honorable lineage, when asked “ What is your message to the public regarding fear of radiation? ” Langevin famously replied, “ Earth is naturally radioactive; otherwise it would already be a dead planet. We live bathed in radiation from rocks, gas and space, with some 7000 becquerels (the number of nuclei that decay per second) inside our bodies. We get enormous benefits from the use of radiation, especially in medicine. Nuclear energy, whose wastes are highly radioactive, has the advantage of producing no carbon dioxide. I regret that the efforts required in order to handle nuclear waste properly have been underestimated for many years. New programs are being developed seriously now, and I am convinced that safe answers can be found to the problem.”
If further evidence is needed, I can mention the declarations of these three engaged scientists concerning the “dramatic accident of the Fukushima I nuclear plant, which unfolded on such a scale only because of the tsunami,” and from which, “fortunately, no fatality due to radiation has occurred.” They claim, “even in the long run, the number of cancers induced by exposure to radiation is likely to be very limited.” They add, “It is imperative that we draw all the lessons possible from this accident in order to reduce the probability of future accidents, even though we know that all human activities, whether involving dams, coal mines, etc., have entailed and will entail accidents.” On the subject of MOX nuclear fuel, the authors assure us that “to stop producing MOX would be a waste of our resources. But to stop reprocessing goes even further: it would jeopardize our future based on the fourth generation of nuclear reactors. (…) To stop reprocessing would spell not only the end of MOX, but the end of our capacity to satisfy our energy needs without polluting with greenhouse gas emissions.” The hired fortune-tellers offer this by way of conclusion: “Abandoning nuclear power, which represents about 14% of global electricity, would most certainly doom us to a failure for which future generations will never forgive us.”
Such frenzied academic nuclear activism is scarcely surprising if we recall how, five days before the first explosion of reactor n°1 in Fukushima Daiichi, physicist Sébastien Balibar gave us on radio evidence of his powers of prediction: “To say that nuclear fission is dirty and dangerous is a rumor which, like many rumors, is false (…) Since the Chernobyl era, the technology of fission reactors has evolved greatly; specifically, there will be no more explosions and no more runaway reactions. (…) Nuclear fission is both sustainable and clean.”
One comes to wonder, finally, whether the academic brigades, with E. Brézin, S. Balibar and I. Bréchet as trailblazers, aren’t, through their vociferous denunciations of an unreal stalinism of which Mr. Lipinski is suspected to be the agent, aiming to more effectively conceal the real stalinization of the CNRS, to which they actively contribute. When the wolf is crying wolf, most certainly the sheep should be worried.
The academic guard dogs claim that “the object of science is truth and truth cannot be left to the vote.” But they forget that scientists are not the only one to hold and to certify the truth, since truth is not only scientific but also social, moral and human. And we cannot expect to establish such social, moral and human truth through thereotical demonstration or objective knowledge. Rather, we must conquer it through struggles in social life itself. The great questions are in the street, and the truth, certainly, cannot be left to the vote: it must be pulled out of the sharp teeth of the academic pack who make short work of it.

Read full text here.
The original article in French may be read here.
See also “Crime d’état.”

See also Fukushima: Is the CNRS a purveyor of ignorance?; The “bright future” of Japan’s nuclear industry; UN Special Rapporteur Anand Grover on Fukushima; 震災とヒューマニズム 3・11の破局をめぐって

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