It's been 30 years, but Andre Junca, who was CEA-Cadarache director from 1974 to 1983, is still a very angry man. "What this guy wrote about Cadarache is a disgrace! We all fell into his trap..."
The "guy" in question was Dominique Lapierre, of the famous Franco-American duo "Lapierre and Collins", the acclaimed authors of such blockbusters as "O Jerusalem", "Is Paris Burning?" and "Freedom at Midnight". In 1978 they were researching a book about international terrorism and nuclear blackmail and asked to visit Cadarache's installations — "The Fifth Horseman", a reference to the Four Riders of the Apocalypse, was eventually published in 1980 in two slightly different versions, one in French, and one in English.
The cast of characters featured the President of the United States, "sad blue eyes" and "deep auburn hair"; Libyan leader Muammar Al Qadafi, a "son of the desert" then in his late thirties; a Palestinian terrorist named Kamal and his brother Whalid, a plutonium expert to whom the French had offered "a key position in the Phoenix programme", the breeder reactor CEA had developed in the late 60's.
In the terrorists' scheme, plutonium was to be stolen from Cadarache, where, in the French version of the book, "the largest plutonium stock in Europe, probably in the world" was stored. Dominique Lapierre, pretending to be researching for a sweeping historical epic on nuclear energy was granted a VIP tour of the installations. "I showed him everything, remembers Andre Junca, Rapsodie, Phebus, even the ATPu plant, and look what he came up with!"
According to Lapierre (p.77 of the French hardback edition), "getting in and out of Cadarache was child's play", the plutonium storage location was "clearly indicated by a pointing arrow on a road sign" and, should the terrorists seize the 200 drums it contained, the alarm would only be raised hours after the plutonium had been stolen: "The Gendarmerie in Peyrolles (7 gendarmes), in charge of protecting the installations, had only one telephone line. A five-year old wouldn't even need a stepladder to cut through it".
The book was to be a huge bestseller, selling millions of copies in more than 30 languages. "When it came out, I raised hell at CEA head offices, says Junca, now 83. Maybe we should have sued. But what could we expect? This guy was like all journalists..." return to Newsline #42