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Creys-Malville, fast breeder reactor stopped, France


There was a demonstration with tens of thousands of people (from France, Switzerland, Germany...) on 31st July 1977 against the so-called Superphénix project (a fast-breeder reactor that would work with plutonium and sodium), at Creys-Malville, near Morestel in the department of Isère. The police killed a demonstrator, Vital Michalon, a young professor of physics, by throwing a grenade to him. The project was finally suspended twenty years later. The arrogant name Superphénix comes from the mythical bird Phénix that is reborn from its own ashes, as electricity would be produced from the plutonium which is a waste product of uranium-fuelled nuclear reactors.

In France the anti-nuclear movement has been less strong than in other countries in Europe. Stopping the Superphénix was one of its few successes. The anti-nuclear movement emerged in the 1970s with protest marches against the nuclear power stations of Bugey, Fessenheim, Creys-Malville (Superphénix) and also Plogoff in Britanny.

In Plogoff a large protest (over 100,000 demonstrators in May 1980) was succesful in stopping the project in the following year, while in Creys-Malville it took twenty years after 1977 for the government to stop the project.

WISE in 1989 asked the European Parliament to intervene. It explained that Superphenix was a prototype 1 250 MW fast-breeder reactor. In conventional Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) and Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) the neutrons are slowed down by the water, which acts as a moderator. In a fast breeder the slowing down process is avoided by cooling the reactor with liquid sodium instead of water. Superphenix contained five tons of plutonium while a traditional plant contains only a few hundred kilos. A few micrograms of inhaled plutonium are enough to cause lung cancer. The half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years.

Superphenix needed 5,000 tons of sodium as a cooling agent. Sodium catches fire when it comes into contact with air and explodes when it comes into contact with water.

In 1998, WISE reported: In the summer of 1976 the first major demonstration against the Superphénix's 1200-MW fast breeder reactor at Creys-Malville took place. The site occupation was met by police violence. But protests increased, locally, nationally and internationally. On July 31, 1977, about 60,000 people from all over Europe marched against Superphénix. This demonstration met a disastrous end. Because of police violence one protester was killed ... and another one hundred got wounded, including some policemen. Resistance never became as massive as then, but remained active on different levels. And with success! On July 31, 1997, a commemoration was held for the demonstration of 1977, and to honor Vital Michalon... At that commemoration there was something to celebrate; Superphénix would not be restarted! On February 2, 1998 the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin reaffirmed the shutdown of Superphénix. Costs of dismantling are estimated at... US$2.5 billion.

After the dismantling operation, the total outcome of electricity balance of Superphénix could be negative, it could have consumed more electricity than it actually produced. Superphénix went into operation in 1986, was plagued by many accidents and only operated for an equivalent of 278 days full power during those 11 years. Total costs (excluding closure costs): US$10 billion.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Creys-Malville, fast breeder reactor stopped, France
State or province:Rhône-Alpes
Location of conflict:Creys-Mépieu, Isère
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

The installed power of the Superphénix would have been 1200 MW. The total investment needed to build and then dismantle the project is of the order of ten billion euros. Dismantling is expected to last until 2017. However, the 14 tons of plutonium and the sodium blocs would still remain at the site.

Level of Investment:12 000 000 000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:1976
End of the conflict:1997
Company names or state enterprises:Electricité de France International (EDF) from France
Relevant government actors:Goverment of France
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsNuclear radiation
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although the project was stopped, dismantling is still proceeding. There was a heavy price paid for by the opposition to the project.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

WISE Nuclear Monitor 499-500, 1998

Article in WISE Nuclear Monitor, n. 320, 1989, with petition to the European parliament

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video on the demonstration and death of Vital Michalon, somewhat biased

Other documents Memorial to Vital Michalon

Meta information

Last update27/09/2015