Notes on the Bure ZAD and the politics of eternity/death
Un grand sommeil noir
Tombe sur ma vie :
Dormez, tout espoir,
Dormez, toute envie !
Je ne vois plus rien,
Je perds la mémoire
Du mal et du bien…
O la triste histoire !
Je suis un berceau
Qu’une main balance
Au creux d’un caveau :
Silence, silence !
The ZADs of france (Zone à défendre), at Notre-dame-des-landes, Testet, Roybon and the many others elsewhere (click here for ZAD map: le monde 21/12/2015) have emerged originally as moments of contestation against major infrastructure developments, public and private, typically outside of large urbanised spaces. The protests have then, in some cases, been followed by occupations of the contested territories with the aim of literally physically impeding the development projects. It is then bodies against machines, the war machine of the State, with all of its apparatuses of control and repression, and the physical machines that re-make space and life, to serve the movement of capital-commodities.
The very real physical nature of the protest then calls something into play which is rarely, if ever, present in momentary city protests (and perhaps not sufficiently reflected upon): bodies need to be feed, sheltered, clothed, cared for. To provide for these needs and more, a protest that extends in time must gain roots, it must become to some degree self-sustaining. The ZADs then become expressions-experiments in other, non-commodified, forms of life. Organised collectively, horizontally, self-managed without a centre or leadership, open to all who share in its vision, the ZADs prefigure a different world, an anti-capitalist world opposed to the kinds of infrastructure investments essential to capitalism’s continuous expansion.
This physical dimension of radical politics has often been set aside or ignored in the heat of riots and insurrections. But the fragility of the “occupy” movements of post-2011, focused primarily on the occupation of city squares, was in part due to this blindness. The occupations in fact could not be maintained, because the bodies present needed more than the occupiers could provide for themselves.
This same fragility however can serve as the occasion to remember older forms of radical politics in which needs and desires were consciously addressed: feminism, race-national liberation movements, syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist organisations, workers cooperatives, neighbourhood assemblies, and so on, are all past and present examples of desire become political. Indeed, the more one explores the history of “anti-capitalist” politics, the more our disembodied politics of protest appear to be the exception rather than the rule. What were the revolutions of the past (the Paris Commune 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spanish Revolution of 1936, etc.) if not creations born of needs and passions? And if revolution seems so distant to so many today, is it not because politics has become but one more alienated and ghostly spectacle of consumption?
The ZADs bring us back to the living earth, giving life back to us.
The ZAD at Bure raises other, additional issues. Those against the creation of a “permanent” nuclear waste storage site have never in fact been able to create a ZAD of any duration. The occupations have been quickly followed by evictions. And this no doubt because too much is at stake.
If we must care for our monsters, there are some which refuse such care; there are some best left to die. But then there are those which refuse to die.
Capitalism devours energy. From the harnessing of wind and water, to the mastery of coal, steam and oil, capitalism is a social system whose reproduction is driven by an insatiable appetite for energy. The domination of the atom, for the production of nuclear energy, is only the maddest of the expressions of this voracity, for it produces a waste (as all energy consumption does) that defies treatment; indeed, it is lethal to all life for tens of thousands of years.
Nuclear energy is thus inevitably authoritarian, “non-convivial” to employ Ivan Illich’s concept. Its production, maintenance and suspension require investment on such a scale that no one has as yet been able to calculate (let alone develop the technological means of addressing) the cost of moving through all three stages securely and a parallel political command of the process that is impossible.
Today, the drive to build more reactors (some 50 are under construction, with expectations of growing demand in Asia: World Nuclear Association 09/2017) knows only one obstacle, namely, the limited, known supply of uranium.
If the need for energy is unchecked, the ecological consequences for human life, and in the case of nuclear energy, life on earth, that results from the corresponding waste produced, are also without end.
And before the limitless, the scientists and engineers of capitalist energy hunger can only imagine, for nuclear energy, an eternal waste bin for a waste that is deathless.
The Bure facility is supposed to allow for the storage of radioactive waste for 100,000 years. Nothing ever built by humans has lasted that long; no one knows if anything that we build can last as long. No one knows what kinds of human beings, human societies, will exist at that time. No one knows whether they will even be able to understand what we have left behind. No one knows whether there will still be any humans left on earth 100,000 years from know. To then build a waste facility, or, in other words, a radioactive garbage dump, to last for one hundred millennia is to build for eternity; it is to build for a post-human time, it is to build on a time scale in which we are no longer present.
If capitalism is a biopolitics in the harnessing life for its control and exploitation, it is equally a necropolitics in the exposing of the many to death.
The production of nuclear energy is the most radical expression of necropolitics imaginable, for it administers the production of life in the present on the grounds of future, collective human extinction. Life is harnessed until death.
Hannah Arendt once described “totalitarianism” as a political regime that renders segments of those governed superfluous. And Gunther Anders, writing of Hiroshima, described the terrifying powers unleashed by nuclear weapons as announcing a metaphysical rupture. “If there is anything that modern man regards as infinite, it is no longer God; nor is it nature, let alone morality or culture; it is his own power. Creatio ex nihilo, which was once the mark of omnipotence, has been supplanted by its opposite, potestas annihilationis or reductio ad nihil; and this power to destroy to reduce to nothingness lies in our hands.”
The human infinite is not the power to create, but to destroy. That power is not necessarily played out in wars between nations, but in a generalised war on nature’s energy sources. We have become our own apocalypse.
A politics of autonomy must measure itself against this.
Michael Madsen’s 2010 documentary film Into Eternity: A Film for the Future …
The ONKALO project of creating the world’s first final nuclear waste facility capable of lasting at least 100,000 years, transgresses both in construction and on a philosophical level all previous human endeavors. It represents something new. And as such I suspect it to be emblematic of our time – and in a strange way out of time …
From an interview with Michael Madsen for “If you love this planet” (15/07/2011) …
I had this suspicion that this is not just beating a hole in the ground and essentially building a bunker-like structure. I think that the aspect of the facility where this shows most clearly is that this facility is built in a way so that it is able to operate without any human interference.
Once it is completed about 120 years from now, it will be sealed off and then it will enter a kind of silent mode operation. And the reason why this facility has to be independent of human surveillance and power supply – which is of course the case with any such interim facility in the world today where the waste is in pools that are cooling the waste,et cetera – the reason for this silent mode element is that in this time span these scientists simply do not expect civilization as we know it today to last.
That means that the knowledge about what nuclear energy is and therefore what radiation is will simply vanish at one point.
And therefore it is not considered possible that any kind of, you can say that it has to be independent of what we humans know in the future because otherwise it would be too dangerous. It’s more safe if it can operate by itself.
And that is because you can say that this facility, the Onkalo facility in Finland, is the first possibly, as one critic said or wrote, possibly the first post-human structure on earth. In it’s very construction it has the notion that civilization as we know it today will not last for this time span.