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currently in France
currently in France
Nuclear Plant ? With Caviar Please !
Nearby the Tihange nuclear plant we found: caviar producers, residents never at a loss for words, a beautiful town and a plant manager who invited us for a tasting.
What an astonishing day. Jean-Jacques Pleyers is in charge of external communication at the Tihange nuclear plant and suggested we take a somewhat original approach to the subject: visit everything except the plant.
Having a nuclear plant in the center of a town is certainly unusual. However, our first surprise was Huy, a town linked with the district of Tihange. While we expected to find an industrial zone, we discovered a beautiful town with an historic center, dominated by an impressive fortified castle. Strolling along its cobbled streets, your eyes are drawn to the attractive townhouses and old buildings. Jean-Jacques stresses that: “Huy doesn’t just have the Wall of Huy, that cut-throat route well known to cyclists: there is a town-hall, churches, a court, a prison” … “and a nuclear plant,” Laure hastens to add. Marc asks: “and what do the locals think about the proximity to the plant?”
Jean-Jacques has planned a lunch for us with two members of the residents’ committee. Mr and Mrs Hugon are young retirees: he was a math professor and she worked in a bank. They joined the Tihange residents’ committee since they wondered if they could plant fruit trees in their garden. Would the proximity to the nuclear plant contaminate their fruit? Then, one thing led to another and they stayed. Mrs Hugon is not at a loss for words. “When the plant was built, if I could have refused I would have.” Like most residents at the time. Then the plant was built. Jean-Jacques Pleyers tells us that when he arrived in 1993, when people saw him they would say “look, here comes the plant”. It was only little by little that this distrust eased, Jean-Jacques tells us. He works on a day-to-day basis to ensure that the plant operates in harmony with its environment. The residents’ committee, which was set up by the Tihange nuclear plant four years ago, forms part of the links that the site forges with its region. At the moment, it has between 15 and 30 members who meet several times a year on the nuclear topic. Jean-Jacques then invites a speaker and everyone can ask their questions freely and debate them. Even if the initiative is exemplary, one cannot help wondering why there are not more members since there are some 20,000 inhabitants in the town of Huy. We ask Mrs Hugon. She thinks people are not interested in the subject. Most people seem indifferent to the plant, which now forms part of the landscape. We then wonder if we would be like that too if we lived in Huy and admit that we probably would.
On the other side of one of the roads bordering the plant, we see a shooting range and then some land with some strange pools with fountains in the middle. Jean-Jacques leads us there and with a mischievous air, mentions “I shall let you guess what happens here”. What a surprise when we understand that we are in a sturgeon fish farm and that Aqua Bio, the company, produces caviar there thanks to the hot water from the nuclear plant’s cooling system.
This is certainly not a boring day. But Jean-Jacques has yet another surprise in store for us. Today, Monday January 3, is a rest day for the Electrabel workforce at the Tihange nuclear plant. Instead of the 1,000 people usually here, there must only be around 20. The site is very peaceful. Next Jean-Jacques takes us to a tasting … with the plant manager.
A man of around 40 welcomes us on the doorstep. He asks us many questions, which we try to reply to between sips of coffee and mouthfuls of cake. He then tells us a little of what his business is like. He speaks passionately about management and the changes one can make in the operation of such an entity. He also refers to the challenge that managing young people represents. “Young people today are different from how we were. They are more assertive and more frank.” We both smile since this phrase is blatantly true. It may seem pretty ordinary to you but it is a good summary of the opportunities on offer to us and the dangers awaiting us. Our generation is said to be surer of itself and mostly less impressed by hierarchies than the previous generation was. This certainly gives us strength, but is there not a thin line between confidence and lack of humility?
Evening has long since fallen and on the train back to Brussels we smile thinking that that very morning we had no idea what we might find around a nuclear plant – a manager passionate about management, a caviar producer, a splendid town and disconcerting residents. We cannot wait for tomorrow, to discover the inside of the plant. The second part of The Golden Mission has begun well. What an astonishing day.