Nettime — Chernobille-sur-Loire, or the announced French nuclear meltdown…

Topic(s): Neoliberalism | Comments Off on Nettime — Chernobille-sur-Loire, or the announced French nuclear meltdown…

A nuclear power plant catastrophe in France – which will affect a large
part of Western Europe, if not beyond – is not a question of if, but of
when. This has little to do with the intrinsic technicalities of nuclear
electricity production, but a lot to the current dictates of
neo-capitalist flexible accumulation.
France is very much dependent on nuclear energy and has a large number
of nuclear power plants scattered all over the country (*), all
owned by the French state company EDF (Electr=E9cit=E9 de France).
EDF is currently th= e object of a heated privatisation debate.
Whatever its outcome, the result remains the same: EDF is increasingly
structured and run like a public limited company, and subjected to the
‘discipline’ of the market(s).
Flexibility, profitability, efficiency, and competitiveness are key
words here. They have displaced, if not replaced altogether, the
ancient notion of public service, which was very strong in France,
and near-exalted in state initiated technologicaly path-breaking
enetrprises like telecoms, high speed railways – and nuclear energy.
The latter had also to deal wit= h the reality of heightened risks –
which have become graphically clear after the Chernobyl catastrophe.
Security however has, within the neo-capitalist mode of production,
been operationalised into yet another cost, to be factored within
an insurance-type envelope of considerations, whose coverage and
provision might well be diminished in the measure that its possibly
negative (read here catastrophic) outcomes can be pushed back into
the future – that is beyond, usually one, and rarely more than a few,
fiscal years.
EDF has already nicely absorbed these lessons from Ramonet’s infamous
On= e Idea System. In order to diminish costs, general maintenance has
been outsourced, severing the link between everyday routine and damage
control when an emergency arises (**). This has heightened the sense
of=20 insecurity among the regular employees of nuclear power plants –
which is already considerable at the best of times.
Worse still, these are subjected to intense pressure to ‘do more
with less’, and especially with less time – without any compensation
whatsoever, all in name of increasing competition. So the ‘weakest’
of them – also often known as the most conscentious – commit suicide.
As the – young, unsurprisingly – new CEO of the Chinon power plant
(where the three suicided employees were working) admits it in today’s
newspeak: “ou= r sector is one where the adaptation constraints are
heavy indeed”.
Such a rhetoric, and the attitudes and practices behind it, bode
extremely ill for the future, as one can easilly guess which
short-term constraints are going to trump long term concerns in the
absence of extremely strict, and thus in the present conjoncture,
illusory regulation. And the excuse is already, shamefully there: when
the announced catastrophe will ultimately take place (next year, or
next decade) (a) it could not have been avoided, given the prevailing
parameters; (b) it will have been caused by human error – of the
operator= s of course, not of the decision makers.
If they could draw any lesson from it, one could only wish the
latter would die an as horrible death as the former. But even this
non-consolation will elude us.
Patrice Riemens, Hoeilaart, April 5, 2007