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Is France Burning?

photo, rue de la huchette

Saturday night in the Quartier Latin.

Fusion Bonanza Snagged

Paris:– Monday, 4. July 2005:– The annual multi–day summer holiday departure began for Parisians on Friday and they were flooding airports and train stations in massive droves with their towels, snorkels, iPods and digital cameras as if there is never a ray of blessed sunshine in this city fatigued by ten months of massive traffic jams, huge street demonstrations and erratic transit strikes.

Train spokesmen said they expected to ship out 1.2 million Parisians over the weekend without the slightest hitch and airports expected to handle another 700,000 passengers. In order to smooth the way all unions were on the job, as a favor for the several thousand train workers going on holidays.

No traffic jams were reported for the major autoroutes leading out of the city on Friday because these were scheduled for Saturday. However TV–news reported that police in the sky were watching traffic patterns carefully and radio–controlled cops on the ground were handing out violation tickets with gay elan. Real cops were assistedphoto, film trucks, louvre by robot radars to detect speeders, and real cops lurked near tollbooths on the lookout for overweight holiday vehicles, often driven by workers and families returning to the Atlas in Morocco.

Some of the fleet of trucks necessary for the filming of the 'Da Vinci Code' at the Louvre.

In the case of the runaway Renault that took a hapless driver on a wild ride at 195 kilometres per hour for 200 kilometres before he could get it stopped, a court decided on Friday to agree with Renault – that there was nothing wrong with the car. The auto manufacturer insisted that the driver did something wrong. The driver, who had already driven the car 30,000 kilometres, continues to think the car tried to kill him. Other similar cases have not been heard by the courts yet.

Bike fans will got their thrill of the year when this year's Tour de France started on Saturday. The race, which lasts three weeks and wanders all around and up and down France, features Texan Lance Amstrong as an odds–on favorite to win, for the seventh time, which will be a record. The racer said before the start that he wasn't in it for the record, but for the last time.

On Thursday 30 big trucks were parked outside the Louvre, signalling the begin of a month of filming of the best–selling fiction by Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code. The museum remains open with most of the filming being done at night, but the other location will be outside the Saint–Sulpice church because the Vatican doesn't like the book.

For the eighth year in a row TV–news reported that the number one holiday sport of the French is walking around. This is a sport that can be done by all ages and both sexes during the morning, afternoon or night, at the seaside, on farms or in the mountains, all within France or on Corsica. TV–news showed elaborate gear for doing this, but neglected to mention that it could be done without leaving town and with no gear at all.

Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been annoying residents of a Paris suburb by sending in 200 heavilyphoto, seine, sundown saturday, armed black–clad police to 'clean up the place.' The cops found nothing and no arrests were made. Next he said magistrates in another case should be 'made to pay' for letting 15 gang defendants go – released because of a legally–tainted investigation. On Friday 200 magistrates and attorneys held a protest demonstration in front of Paris' Palais de Justice.

A vision of a boat cruise on the Seine Saturday night.

On the domestic front Thursday's Le Parisien wondered if Cécilia Sarkozy would be rejoining her husband after returning from taking two of her sons to Disneyland in Florida. According to Swiss papers the famous couple have not been getting on well, but this has only recently been noticed by papers in Paris. Madame Sarkozy was her husband's right–hand man during his first stint at Interior and later at the Ministry of Finance. She has been quoted as saying that she does not wish to be a 'first lady,' a reference to Monsieur Sarkozy's desire to become president of France in 2007.

Meanwhile, as Parisians set off for a summer of sand, surf, sex and fun, the annual July 1st price hikes were announced. National health insurance reforms came into effect, rising medical bills. The state gas monopoly is also upping its rates, in anticipation of selling itself to capitalists. Train and transit fares also rise Friday as equally anticipated. On the other side of the coin, some forms of social benefits went up slightly, as did the minimum wage and there was a half–point raise for civil servants. The usual protests are expected in September when everybody gets back.

Also as usual at this time of year forest fires have broken out and armies of firemen and waterbombers are tirelessly attacking the wind–driven blazes, while gendarmes search for the usual firebugs. Some homeowners have pitched in too with puny garden hoses, trying to save their houses while many women and children were evacuated to safety.

The good weather news is for holiday makers rather than Parisians who are staying behind, even though the summer sales continue to offer deep discounts. The weekend was expected to be cool and partly cloudy in the city while the sun blazed through azure skies over the Riviera, driving the temperatures up to 29–32 degrees for the joy of all who can afford to be there.

Fusion Bonanza Snagged

Last Wednesday 40 mayors gathered in the small town of Vinon–sur–Verdon down south in Provence to knock the tops off a lot of Champagne bottles, and toast the decision that will bring the world's next experimental fusion reactor to their area. The mayors were part of a group of 95, who don't want their communes to go empty handed.

In this area of France, at the intersection of four departments known more for their climate between mountainsphoto, pastisserie, rue harpe and Mediterranean so prized by the filthy and not–so–filthy rich owners of authentic 'maisons de Provence,' the mayors also have to be concerned that this paradise isn't going to turn into a development slum or a nuclear crater.

North African goodie shop in the Quartier Latin.

At a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday the representatives of an international consortium gave the green light to Cadarache, near Vinon–sur–Verdon, to be the location of an experimental reactor that may allow scientists to prove the feasibility of nuclear fusion, which is how the sun operates. This is known as the ITER project.

The partners include the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Japan, also a favorite in the competition as a location for the site, accepted the runner–up role of building an affiliated research project worth a billion euros, to be financed by the European Union. For ITER, France will put up 10 percent of the required 10 billion euro investment and the European Union's share will be 40 percent with the others kicking in 10 percent each.

Current fission nuclear reactors create energy by breaking large atoms in two. Fusion operates inversely, melding light atoms to give birth to heavy clusters. Thermonuclear does this too but is not controlled, unless you consider explosions to be tidy.

The benefit of fusion is supposed to be a generation of much more energy using less fuel than fission, while producing less radioactive waste.

It's part of a long process that began in 1997 in Britain with the Tokamak JET reactor. It produced 16 megawatts for a whole second, but required 23 megawatts of power to do it. In 2002 the improved Tokamak Tore Supra with superconducting magnets, located at Cadarache, produced a lot of energy over a longer period – for exactly four minutes and 25 seconds.

While the mayors are contemplating the expenditure of a five billion euros for the new ITER plant at Cadarache, they are drinking Champagne with the idea of 6000 new jobs landing in the area. They intend to defend the 'way of life' in the area's small towns, by not welcoming real estate speculators. Vinon's population increased from 800 to 4500 when the Cadarache center was created.

In fact Cadarache has been chosen partly because it has been allied to nuclear science for 40 years. Detailed studies for ITER began in 2001. On the 1600 hectare site there are currently 18 nuclear plants and 4000 workers, many high–tech.

Although close to the Riviera, Greenpeace doesn't see so much sunshine in the scenario. Back in 2001 thephoto, my empty plate environmental watchdog organization claimed that a third of the nuclear installations at Cadarache might not withstand a major earthquake. A nuclear security agency said replacements should be programmed before 2015.

Apparently the operator, Areva, took it seriously, because the production of MOX fuel was shifted from Cadarache to the Melox factory at Chusclan. That was the plan at any case. In the fall of 2002 the ecology minister was reported to be asking the Prefect of the Gard to conduct a public enquiry about increasing the capacity at the Melox factory.

The vision of cheap and clean energy is a goal worth saluting. Today nuclear is the method of choice for generating most of France's electricity, but with the way the climate seems to be going, the immense amount of water necessary to cool the reactors is in doubt because of the threat of summer droughts.

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