Jean-Marc Royer: Political philosophy of nuclear power

One day, [Noah] clothed himself in sackcloth and covered his head with ashes. Only a man who was mourning [the death of] a beloved child or his wife was allowed to do this. Clothed in the garb of truth, bearer of sorrow, he went back to the city, resolved to turn the curiosity, spitefulness, and superstition of its inhabitants to his advantage. Soon he had gathered around him a small curious crowd, and questions began to be asked. He was asked if someone had died and who the dead person was. Noah replied to them that many had died, and then, to the great amusement of his listeners, said that they themselves were the dead of whom he spoke. When he was asked when this catastrophe had taken place, he replied to them: “Tomorrow.” Profiting from their attention and confusion, Noah drew himself up to his full height and said these words: “The day after tomorrow, the flood will be something that has been. And when the flood will have been, everything that is will never have existed. When the flood will have carried off everything that is, everything that will have been, it will be too late to remember, for there will no longer be anyone alive. And so there will no longer be any difference between the dead and those who mourn them. If I have come before you, it is in order to reverse time, to mourn tomorrow’s dead today. The day after tomorrow it will be too late.” With this he went back whence he had come, took off the sackcloth [that he wore], cleaned his face of the ashes that covered it, and went to his workshop. That evening a carpenter knocked on his door and said to him: “Let me help you build an ark, so that it may become false.” Later a roofer joined them, saying: “It is raining over the mountains, let me help you, so that it may become false.”

Günther Anders, cited in Jean-Pierre Dupuy, The Mark of the Sacred, trans. M. B. DeBevoise (Stanford University Press, 2013), 203. (cf. e-flux journal, 09/2020)

From lundimatin, #414, 08/02/2024 …

The recent references to nuclear energy as green or alternative energy, prefiguring the so-called “ecological transition”[1]  by European authorities or the Dubai conference, require that we come back to it seriously; and this includes the massive French recovery plan as well. On the other hand, the war between a state which possesses nuclear weapons and another which has six nuclear power stations on its soil revives all the forms of disaster inherent to its existence since 1945. This is the subject of the following text in eighteen theses, a text that proposes to return to the essence of nuclear power in order to propose a critical theory of it.

1 – Nuclear power could not have been invented without intimate knowledge of matter, without relativity (E = MC2) and without particle physics. It is therefore the eldest son of 20th century science and it carried science’s power to its apogee.

Scientific controversy was first the terrain of the American tobacco companies and it is the privileged terrain of the “nucleocrats” because they know that the method includes doubt. They also know that it is the best way to depoliticise nuclear power. This in no way means that we should do without the scientific method of knowledge when examining the nuclear question.

2 – The adventure of the Manhattan Project[2]  is above all the search for a superior power of destruction, more modern and more scientific than the old solutions calling on the Fordo-Taylorist “process” used during the first industrial, total and global war, then at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nuclear power then appeared to be the ultimate solution to any conflict.

Given that capitalist social relations of production have invaded all areas of society since the end of the 19th century, a parallel can be drawn between the structural evolution of capital and that of war or mass crime which are becoming increasingly more abstract.[3]

3 – Nuclear power is a crime against humanity which was perpetrated with full knowledge of the facts by the United States,[4] then by the other nuclear powers (USSR, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel):

— Indeed, during the first atomic explosion on July 16, 1945, there was immediate local fallout, then a dozen days later, a spectacular increase in radiation measurements due to the circum-earth return of the stratospheric cloud to the coast of the Western United States, a phenomenon due to high-altitude jet streams known since the 1920s. These planetary fallouts have since been widely confirmed: thus, the fauna, flora, atmosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere and hydrosphere have been irradiated or contaminated, which the analysis of Antarctic ice cores by Claude Lorius had demonstrated since the 1960s.

— The dangers of radiation were known as early as the mid-1920s, for which Marie Curie, who was aware of them, paid with her life. This did not prevent American doctors from carrying out inoculations of radioactive products on thousands of non-consenting people (called “Human Products”) at least from April 1945, according to the archives opened in the United States.

— The criteria for crime against humanity as it was defined at the time or as it is now are met.[5]

4 – But it is a particular crime against Humanity and a universal biocide which endures and will continue to endure ad vitam aeternam:

— The two thousand four hundred atmospheric, underwater or underground explosions, the operation of power plants and more generally all of its so-called civil uses, make it a perennial phenomenon whose consequences are immense: sixty-five million deaths since 1945 according to Chris Busby’s commission called for by the Green deputies of the European Parliament in 1998; in other words, more victims than the Second World War.[6] But as this disaster cannot be reduced to a finite event, space or time, official History still ignores or denies it: apart from the fact that it is always written by the victors, it requires precise dates – for example that of 1492 – to decree the end of the Middle Ages even though this changed absolutely nothing in the material and spiritual life of the 95% of peasants at the time.

— In addition, an increase in ionizing radiation on a planetary scale has gradually led to a multiplication of various carcinogenic, teratogenic, and mutagenic pathologies, both evolutionary and hereditary, as the biologist Alain Dubois cautiously reports: “this would be the greatest crime imaginable against Humanity”;[7] a past, present and future crime we can add.

— The lasting nature of this crime against Humanity is reinforced by the half-life of 29,000 years of one of these elements, Plutonium.

A sort of modern blood tax is thus paid to the nuclear industry: where we once again see the immense civilisational regression which is hidden in the so-called progress supposed to qualify it since the 19th century.

5 – In fact, a carefully prepared negationism is still perpetuated today with enormous means, means commensurate with the States, agencies and industries involved. It constitutes one of the biggest travesties in modern history, a travesty commensurate with the upheavals that capitalism has introduced over the past two centuries:

— The Manhattan Project was strictly framed and supervised by the military, all the intelligence services, reasons of state, industrial patents and business secrecy.

— All the surveys carried out on site by more than a hundred Japanese teams, from August 10 to mid-September 1945, were stolen and sent to the United States.[8] The other analyses have remained covered by defence secrecy to this day.

— The “Smyth report” was published by the United States authorities on August 12, 1945, a press conference was organized in Tokyo at the beginning of September 1945, then at the site of the first explosion, in Alamogordo in New Mexico, on September 12, in order to respond to the article by Wilfred Burchett who was the first Western journalist to discreetly travel to Hiroshima to report on the effects of the atomic explosion, which had an international impact.

— Contrary to Nazi ideology, this nuclear negationism as a state ideology has the particularity that it could only be deployed in broad daylight after the fact, that is to say after the weapon of mass destruction had been successfully tested on Japanese guinea pigs, military secrecy and reasons of state oblige. With the “Atom for peace” propaganda, for which Japan will also pay the price, it is a post-mortem state ideology, so to speak, that was put in place.

6 – The shock of consciences, that is, the development of what we now call the shock strategy, knowingly initiated by a State, its scientists, its political and military personnel, was the first of its kind on this scale; it was developed in the Target Committee.

The event was so massive, sudden, astonishing, that the intellect and imagination of the crowds, already traumatized by “the Thirty Years’ War” (1914-1945), were paralyzed.

As this shock was draped in the mystifying prestige of a “scientific revolution”, it resulted in a disconcerting cognitive and psychological disruption for populations around the world. In psychoanalytic language, it was a trauma, the only form of “improbable resolution” of which consists of repression.

The New York Times headlines the newspaper with the atomic bomb and illustrates, with supporting tables, the formidable explosive power of a new device representing “the hopes of a peace finally rediscovered”. In England, the Times praised the benefits of nuclear energy for the development of “culture and the improvement of the mind”. In France, […] L’Humanité [of August 8, 12 and 13] highlights the part that French scientists had in “this prodigious conquest of science” and, more especially, the role of “comrade Joliot” in this area.[9]L’Aurore, Le Parisien Libéré, Le Monde, La Croix and Résistance [of August 7 and 8] unanimously celebrate the first atomic catastrophe, evoking a “discovery” and “a scientific revolution”, while the ruins of Hiroshima are still smoking.[10]

Photos of the disasters caused by the atomic bombings were deliberately withheld, unlike those of the death camps. This is why in 1959 Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras had their characters say, with justification: “Tu n’a rien vu à Hiroshima/You saw nothing in Hiroshima”.

7 – Furthermore, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the subject of an institutionally organised memory as is the case for Auschwitz-Birkenau. On the contrary, the Hibakushas had to wait until 1957, that is to say five years after the departure of the American occupiers, for their own country to recognise them as victims of the atomic bombings and their aftermath.

8 – Nuclear power, as a “limit-abstraction”, is the image of the most terrible death that Humanity has ever been confronted with. This image of death went far beyond and still goes far beyond all the usual frameworks of analysis and understanding of human beings (Günther Anders), if only because it is a threat of dehumanised death, which endangers all forms of life on Earth.

9 – The primitive accumulation of capital in the West had already killed or proletarianised millions of African slaves thrown into moral and material misery. But when the said “modernity” of the 19th century gave birth to a new founding myth – the struggle of all against all, defined as the engine of progress – and when it authorised itself to go beyond the prohibition of murder – which is to say the foundation of all culture, of all society, of all civilization – under the auspices of mass eugenics, it is a point of no return which has been reached by the de facto crystallisation of a “triple alliance”: that of thermo-industrial capital, the modern scientific mode of knowledge and modern nation-states.

10 – In 1945, only half a century after its crystallisation, this new civilisation in some way reached its “truth”.[11] Consequently, to study or combat nuclear power is not only to confront the essence of the civilisation of capital – an industrial death on a planetary scale – but it is above all to address the central philosophical question of the politics of our era.

11 – Thinking about nuclear power is therefore difficult because it requires us to constantly think about this exceptional image of death without any of us being able to plausibly foresee its outcome. In other words, in the nuclear field, there is not and there will never be any hope of “deliverance”, which no normally constituted human being can bring themselves to accept. It is also one of the foundations of the ongoing human tragedy, which is limitless.

12 – As with Auschwitz-Birkenau, it is because of its immeasurable attacks on life and its radical inhumanity that it remains impossible to mourn Hiroshima-Nagasaki. And as the effect of all these disasters and their negations has still not been resolved, universal consciousness remains profoundly altered.[12]

In fact, all of the generations after 1945 had as a gift in their cradle the fragments of meaning of the most radical experiences of dehumanisation that the world has ever known.

13 – In addition to the systemic effects of “the Thirty Years’ War”, it is the power of nuclear energy which allowed the colonisation of political powers by scientific-military-industrial complexes. This evolution of States and Capital is largely the result of the “triple alliance” which crystallised during the second half of the 19th century into a new civilization whose destructive and unprecedented power remains astonishing in the literal sense of the term.

14 – 1945 was therefore the starting point of a “radicalisation of capital” of which sufficient hindsight allows us to say that it is in a general state of, but undeclared, war against all forms of animal and plant life on Earth. The so-called “trente glorieuses” are the “gift package” which has partially protected nuclear power from criticism. The modern scientific mode of knowledge is the other layer that protects nuclear power from criticism.[13]

15 – This radicalisation having taken on new disastrous and morbid dimensions, the eroticisation of death comes to compensate,[14] while “the calculating and transgressive rational Imagination”[15] ejects from the field of consciousness any ethical or political reflection for the benefit of calculation and the glorification of a self-made man fitted to his small screen, a modern-day Narcissus with a bent back and an absent gaze, of whom Fritz Lang had already given us a glimpse in Metropolis in 1927.

16 – When desire is eradicated and death is eroticised to this extent, it is yet another sign that a civilisation is collapsing. It would not be the first, but the life of this one will be very short-lived; and as it has become global and its means of destruction have also become global, there is an unprecedented tragedy in human history and in that of life.

17 – To think differently about nuclear power

To think differently about nuclear power is to think of it as one of the representations of the essence of this deadly civilisation[16] and its ongoing collapses.

To think differently about nuclear power leads to demonstrating how all States have not only failed on the basis of their constitutional legitimacy which consists of protecting populations, but are profoundly and deliberately undermining their lives and even the possibility of living on earth. This radical violence, which is also exercised in other areas, obviously forces us to rethink anew how to oppose it.

To thinking differently about nuclear power can only be done by leaving (through radical criticism) the frameworks of thought that gave birth to it: modern scientific knowledge, thermo-industrial capitalism and modern Nation-States.

18 – For a critical nuclear theory: some major requirements

— First major requirement of any critical theory of nuclear power: absolutely reconnect with totalising concerns and the construction of operational concepts.

— Second requirement: integrate the shift of Western capitalist civilisation in 1945 as a major historical rupture and cornerstone of this critical theory.

— Third major requirement: historicise and politicise death when they eroticize it.

— Fourth requirement: develop an internal critique of the modern scientific mode of knowledge and not be satisfied with a moral judgment on its uses. Definitively proscribe the portmanteau word Technoscience.

— Fifth requirement: avoid abstract theoreticism by combining several critical approaches, including ethical and anthropological.

— Sixth requirement: think about “the future” that this total war on the living has left us.

Jean-Marc Royer

January 2024.

[1] J-Baptiste Fressoz, in Sans transition. Une nouvelle histoire de l’énergie, Paris, Seuil, 2024, explains why “ the ecological transition” is an illusion.

[2] Code name for the project to manufacture the atomic bomb in the United States between 1942 and 1945. Thanks to Gary Libot for his careful reading.

[3] Cf. the text “Capital et mode de connaissance scietifique moderne. Un Imaginaire en partage”, 2021 or J-Marc Royer, La science creuset de l’inhumanité, L’Harmattan, 2012.

[4] Without it being possible to develop it here, it is of the utmost importance to understand the history of the United States.

[5] Read our text on this subject entitled “L’obsolescence du vivant sur Terre”, available on several sites.

[6] Paul Lannoye, Françoise Dupont, Recommandations 2003 du Comité Européen sur le Risque de l’Irradiation, Éditions Frison-Roche, 2004, p. 168. This work is a translation of the report of the European Committee on Radiation Risk ( coordinated by Chris Busby. No serious criticism of nuclear power can ignore this report.

[7] Hagen Scherb, & Christina Voigt, “The human sex odds at birth after atmospheric atomic bomb tests, after Chernobyl, and in the vicinity of nuclear facilities”, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 2011, vol. 18, p. 607-707, cited by A Dubois, Un biologiste contre le nucléaire, Berg international, 2012, p. 167.

[8] Cf. J-M Royer, Le Monde comme projet Manhattan. Des laboratoires du nucléaire à la guerre généralisée au vivant, Le Passager Clandestin, 2017.

[9] When the Vatican condemned the use of the atomic bomb on August 10, l’Humanité declared its surprise in the falsely ingenuous tone that the communists of the time knew how to wield so well. At the end of 1945, “Comrade Joliot” who headed the CEA before being dismissed in 1950, said to General de Gaulle: “I will give you, my general, your bomb!” In March 1946, in the first number of the scientific journal Atomes, he wrote about the Manhattan project: “We cannot help but admire the research and construction effort that has been made by the Americans, as well as the value of the scientists and technical directors”.

[10] P. Bujnoczky, “À l’ombre du progrès scientifique” in Médecine et Guerre Nucléaire, Vol. 25, n° 2, June,  2010.

[11] Read Le monde comme projet Manhattan or the articles published on this subject by the author.

[12] Cf., on this subject, our text “Qu’est-ce que le mode de connaissance scientifique moderne”, Technologos, September 22, 2023.

[13] For an analysis of the formal, reductionist and objectifying logic at work in the construction of the theoretical corpus specific to the scientific mode of knowledge, read in particular: François Lurçat, La science suicidaire (1999) et L’autorité de la science (1995) ; Michel Henry, La barbarie (1987) ; Jean-Pierre Lebrun, Un monde sans limites, (2009), La condition humaine n’est pas sans conditions, (2010) ; Jean-Marc Royer, La science, creuset de l’inhumanité, L’harmattan, 2012.

[14] Smartphones, which are dependent on “Blood Minerals”, were from the start designed as objects of desire with smooth beauty through which computing power imposes itself on the psyches.

[15] Cf. the text “Capital et mode de connaissance scientifique moderne : un imaginaire en partage”.

[16] Thus, the use of the expressions “silent spring”, “Ground zero” and since the summer of 2015 “hot spot”, to designate the internment camps that the technocrats of Brussels and elsewhere want to open at the borders of Europe, come from the nuclear field.

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