Robert Belot

The Atom and France Publication date : October 28, 2015

Robert Belot is the director of RECITS (Research and Studies on Industrial, Technical and Social Change), a laboratory at Belfort-Montbéliard University of Technology, and the author of numerous works. His current research interest is the social perception of technology in the 20th century.

France, the world’s most nuclearised nation, has a strangely self-contradictory attitude to the atom. While fearing nuclear weapons and the environmental problems posed by the nuclear industry, French leaders generally approve civilian and military uses of nuclear energy. The roots of this inconsistent position go back to the Liberation and the post-war period when the need to put the country back on its feet and restore its dignity roused popular enthusiasm for science and technology. Two days after Hiroshima, the Communist Party daily L’Humanité ran the headline: ‘The Atom Bomb, Prodigious Triumph of Science’.
As early as 1945, ‘techno-scientific Gaullism’ (though at the time De Gaulle was interested only in civilian nuclear power) and the militant Communist and Nobel Prize winner Frédéric Joliot-Curie joined forces and founded the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), while journalists and artists chimed in to praise nuclear power and its future benefits for humanity.
Even though this progressive alliance was rapidly superseded by an era of suspicion, and later of defiance, towards the ‘civilisation of power’ and its balance of terror, the era before nuclear energy lost its innocence had a major impact on the imagination of the French. Seventy years after Hiroshima and the founding of the CEA, this book reviews the unique, troubling history of a French ‘nuclear Eden’.

• Why is France such a greatly nuclearised nation?
• How the Liberation favoured the development of techno-science.
• For the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and the founding of the CEA, a valuable review of a little-known era.