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Plogoff nuclear power plant, Britanny, France

Tough blockades in a small fisherfolk village prevent the opening of nuclear plant; the French state was confronted by its citizens in one of the best known successes in environmental struggles in France.


There is a strong memory of the successful struggle of several weeks in Pointe de Raz, Plogoff, Brittany, in 1980, against the attempt by EDF (Electricité de France) to build a nuclear power plant. No nuclear power station has ever been build in Breton territory.  An excellent documentary by Nicole Le Garrec commemorates the unusual events in this peaceful and small fishing village. As reported by WISE (Nuclear Monitor), in June 1976 a first confrontation occurred at Plogoff when EDF engineers were prevented from entering the prospective site by local inhabitants blocking the access roads. After that, in 1978, the state opted for the Plogoff location again. Meanwhile, in March of that year, the large Amoco Cadiz oil spill had taken place in the coast of Brittany and environmental awareness had risen. As soon as the decision to build the nuclear power plant was made public, people started to organize marches. In September 1978 5,000 people marched on the site, and 15,000 a week later in the nearby cities of Brest and Quimper. However, the authorities approved the site.  In July 1979, the commune of Plogoff received the first papers regarding the statutory inquiry into the public utility of the project, a sign that EDF was determined to proceed. The local council refused to cooperate with the inquiry. In the morning of January 30, 1980, in a famous incident, the official documents for the Public Utility Inquiry (3.5 kilograms of paper) arrived at the town hall and were immediately burned ceremonially on the square in the presence of the Mayor. This launched the beginning of a new level of resistance. To fulfill the legal procedures of the licensing process, the inquiry documents had to be displayed locally. Because civil servants and EDF were not allowed by the local politicians to use the town hall or any other place, they set up mobile "Mairies Annexes" in small vans for displaying the documents. The first barricades appeared. All access roads where blocked with tree trunks, old tractors and whatever was available, to stop the mobile "town hall annexes" from entering the town. Under heavy police protection the vans, dubbed the "town hall annexes", made their way, having first to remove all barricades. There they stayed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and withdrew again. This was the beginning of the siege of Plogoff. During six weeks, from January 31 to March 14, the "town hall annexes" and the police guarding them came under constant harassment, including some molotov cocktails, arrests, trials, petitions asking the removal of the intervention forces which stationed there permanently, marches gathering several thousand people, stone throwing, general strikes and even strikes in regional courts on days when cases against anti-nuclear activists were scheduled. All this put a new rhythm into the daily life of Plogoff's inhabitants. The police replied with clouds of tear gas. Every day, the convoy had to get into place through the barricades; the location of the "town hall annexes" was usually fouled with manure and had to be cleaned up. During the day mainly the women kept up a constant psychological warfare with insults and taunts thrown at the police. The main clashes usually occurred at 5 p.m. when the "annexes" were due to be withdrawn.  On March 14, the last day of the inquiry, a crowd of at least 7.000 "pilgrims" gathered and organized a symbolic burial with black coffins, wooden crosses, crowns of flowers and women wearing the traditional grieving headdress. A feast took place two days later attended by over 50,000 people.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Plogoff nuclear power plant, Britanny, France
State or province:Britanny
Location of conflict:Quimper
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear power plants
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

1,500-megawatt station, which was scheduled to go into operation in 1990.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:50,000
Start of the conflict:1974
End of the conflict:1981
Company names or state enterprises:Electricité de France International (EDF) from France
Relevant government actors:Presidency of the French Republic
Ministry of the Interior (France)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- Eau et Rivières de Bretagne
- Bretagne vivant
- Consumers associations, Bretagne
- CFDT (France)
- GSIEN (Groupement des Scientifiques pour l'Information sur l'Energie Nucléaire)
- WISE, World Information Service on Energy, founded in 1978
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Refusal of compensation
Occupation of land with sheep farm, blockades of entrances to city hall, symbolic burning of official documents
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Other Environmental impacts, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsRadiation risks
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Land dispossession
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of alternatives:Stopping the plans by EDF for the nuclear power plant.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The plans for the nuclear power plant were shelved. Local women were very active. There was support from regional alliances. This was one of the few cases in France where a nuclear power plant was stopped. The cultural identity of Britanny perhaps played a role, together with the awareness of nuclear accidents elsewhere, and the electoral triumph of François Mitterrand in 1981. There was refusal of compensation.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[click to view]

Gérard Borvon. Plogoff, un combat pour demain. C’est un livre. C’est d’abord la chronique du premier combat victorieux contre le lobby nucléaire : celui de la population de Plogoff dans la Pointe du Raz et des comités qui la soutenaient. C’est aussi un document utile à tous ceux qui, aujourd’hui, reprennent ce combat. Que ce soit contre l’EPR de Flamanville ou contre l’aéroport de Notre Dame des Landes.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Plogoff. L'esprit de la lutte, par Didier Déniel, 31/7/2010.
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Nuclear Monitor Issue: #499-500. WISE. Special: The magazine of hope. 16/10/1998Article. Bretons against Plogoff nuclear power plant
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Plogoff: des pierres contre des fusils, 1980, Le Garrec (a documentary of 90 minutes, showing the clashes with the police using tear gas, the discussions in the village etc).
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Summer camp in 2015 of young FOE Europe, precisely at Plogoff
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Meta information
Contributor:Joan Martinez Alier
Last update04/08/2016
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