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Géraud Bournet is a freelance illustrator based in Grenoble, France.  A Self-taught artist, he has a scientific background in environmental engineering. Much of his work is for cultural and political non-profit organizations, and his illustrations have appeared in the press and in children’s books. He strives to make each illustration, document or book a “visual performance” by combining a variety of techniques such as screen printing, pen and ink drawing and digital imaging.

Prompted by the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, Geraud Bournet set out to understand the underpinnings of the disaster and nuclear risk in France. The graphic essay, Franckushima, is the culmination of his extensive research and collaborative work. In his words, “Franckushima allows me to combine my artistic and scientific skills and present nuclear energy using a documented, poetic and visually compelling approach.”

INTERVIEW
How did this project start?

 

In 2011, I was profoundly affected by the lack of reactions to this disaster and by how quickly it was forgotten. I wanted to know more, however, as I researched the subject, I could only find books written by scholars or activists, and the only educational material I could find was superficial.

 

Given the important risk to which we are exposed by nuclear power, it should be a concern for all of us. Is the nuclear risk something that can be reduced to a purely technical question? Does its complexity justify us giving our trust over to the experts of the industry?

 

I wanted to write this book in order to provide the knowledge that would be necessary for people to take a side in this debate. This discussion is more than a choice about which energy to use; it’s an important political and social question concerning a risk we are or are not willing to take as a society.

Why are testimonials such an important part of your book?

 

Before writing the book, I spent two years investigating the subject by discussing the subject with people, listening to interviews, radio shows and conferences, reading press reviews, scientific articles, official reports and testimonials as well as watching documentaries and movies.

 

I found that the testimonials and the discussions moved me more than the reports written by experts. I felt that the general population was in the best position to describe what they were living and the difficulties they were going through. I started collecting testimonials of those whose lives were completely changed with the intention of giving their perspective more visibility.

 

The testimonials are what brings the book together and allow the reader to better understand the different points of view that are presented. As a result, my work is a hybrid between a documentary, an educational tool, and a story.

In Franckushima, some parts are illustrated and others not. What motivated that choice?

 

Look around us. Who reads books about nuclear issues? Just about nobody. It’s a very complex subject and remains unappealing to the general public. As a result, it is reserved to the scientific and environmentalist communities. I was convinced that by creating illustrations, maps and comics I could make the subject matter easier to understand and more attractive to read about.

 

A good visual can be just as informative as a description or analysis. The diagrams and maps synthesize complex information and the comics allow the readers to identify themselves with the situation. My work is guided by two approaches. The journalistic approach is comprised of press reviews, documentary research, interviews, testimonials and analytical texts. The artistic approach uses images as a way to inform and provoke the reader.

 

My work consists of a journalistic as well as artistic approach, in which the images are both informative and provocative.

You have worked with many collaborators. How did they contribute to your book?

 

When I started writing Franckushima many people had started to document the disaster in their own way. I wanted to work in a collaborative way that would allow the readers to understand the diversity of perspectives that is representative of such a complex subject.

 

I have been in contact with scientists, researchers, movie directors, and authors living in Japan and in other countries, as well as nuclear plant workers and activists. Some have provided me with their scientific expertise and knowledge about the subject. Others have shared their point of view and personal analyses of the situation. They have lent me their personal documents, studies, photos and books. Many people have also read previous versions of the book in order to guarantee scientific and historical rigor.

Why « Franckushima »?

 

At the beginning of the project, I wanted to write a book that was about the Fukushima disaster as well as the nuclear risk in France. Every year the number of incidents increases. There is not a day without an incident at one of the nuclear sites in France and on many occasions we have even come close to a disaster.

 

The aging infrastructure and the retirement of a growing number of workers are the two major factors that will impact nuclear safety in France. On average, the infrastructure is 30 years old, and approaching the end of the lifespan it was designed for.

 

Franckushima is a book about the Fukushima disaster with, as a backdrop, the issues surrounding nuclear risk in France.

 

How will we deal with a disaster of such importance? What would be the environmental, social, sanitary and political consequences?

 

What is certain is that, in the long term, a nuclear disaster in France is inevitable. We must prepare for it now.

Interview by Maud Bournet, history and geography teacher specialized in risk management and trainer at IFFO-RME