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Plogoff nuclear power plant, Britanny, 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.

Then slowly calm came back after the departure of the public inquiry team. During the following months, people didn't give up and asked support from other localities in the area, and organized lectures about the accident of Three Miles Island at Harrisburg, US, that had taken place the year before. In May 1980, at Pentecost, 100,000 people demonstrated on the site again.

By the autumn of 1980 the site was kept under constant occupation. The landing of helicopters was made impossible by special kites and oil drums ready to be ignited. There was an early warning system within a radius of 50 km around the site, for approaches on land. Barricades to block all access roads had been prepared. The land had been taken in common ownership by about 2,000 individuals to make expropriation more difficult. A sheep farm was installed on the site and supplied with additional sheep by Larzac farmers. Regionally, the resistance of Plogoff could draw upon the support of environmental organizations such as Eau et Rivières de Bretagne and Bretagne vivant, consumers associations, political parties such as the PSU, the CFDT labour union and other committees like the GSIEN (Groupement des Scientifiques pour l'Information sur l'Energie Nucléaire). French state power never expected such resistance by a village of fishermen which was mostly populated by old people. For six weeks they confronted the riot police (CRS), the military police (gendarmerie) and even some parachutists who guarded the mairies annexes.  Some villagers were arrested and brought to court. In 1981 François Mitterrand was elected President of France. He carried out his campaign promise to cancel the project. Since then, Plogoff is well known in the country for the tough and stubborn fight against the installation of the nuclear plant. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Plogoff nuclear power plant, Britanny, France
State or province:Britanny
(municipality or city/town)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 and 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
translation missing: en.m.mobilizing_groups.fisher_people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Public campaigns
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Official complaint letters and petitions
Occupation of land with sheep farm, blockades of entrances to city hall, symbolic burning of official documents
Refusal of compensation

Impacts of the project

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 and Materials

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


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.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Nuclear Monitor Issue: #499-500. WISE. Special: The magazine of hope. 16/10/1998Article. Bretons against Plogoff nuclear power plant

Plogoff. L'esprit de la lutte, par Didier Déniel, 31/7/2010.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Summer camp in 2015 of young FOE Europe, precisely at Plogoff

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).

Other documents

Meta information

Contributor:Joan Martinez Alier
Last update04/08/2016