Nothing predisposed Jean-Michel Jacquemin-Raffestin to become a writer, and even less to write about the ecological and sanitary consequences of the Chernobyl cloud.
He has been an executive in an advertising agency for 18 years when the main shareholder retires and sells his shares. When the agency gets bought from the other associate’s holding, the latter offers to sell him a company he had been taking care of for a year. The firm is of course bought without any liability guarantees!
One month after the buying signature, the banker sends a letter letting him know that he has three months left to cover the 200.000 euros bank overdraft since the company belongs to him and is therefore no longer part of the 800 millions turnover holding.
The company is in debt, no bank accepts to lend him money without any guarantee. His house is mortgaged to meet his monthly financial obligations. Two years will be enough to ruin a life’s work acquisitions. The couple splits up, the company is put into compulsory liquidation, the houses are put up for sale by auction to pay for the debts, bank accounts are seized …
He has only got a few friends left, and not necessarily those he would have wished to have under those circumstances, but true ones. They rent a one-bed apartment for him, lend him their cars and pay for his power and telephone bills … etc.
It is in this state of mind that Jean-Michel one day follows a television report on the children of Chernobyl. The next day, he gets in touch with the association in Paris, meets the president the following days and gets involved into a journey to Ukraine three weeks later.
There, what he witnesses is by far worse than a television report. Never directly confronted to poverty and protected by a cosy middle-class existence until the last months, he suddenly discovers the agony of children, the lack of medicine, beds and equipment in Ukrainian private clinics and hospitals.
As soon as he gets back to France, he inquires to international organizations and starts a written work on the situation in Ukraine, but also in Belarus as well as in the Russian federation. His work is refused publishing by editors in Paris, it is very well documented, they say, but argue that the French are not interested in what is going on 800 miles from their country. Therefore, the book shows no commercial interest.
At the time, an emblematic character visits France, Jean-Michel travels to the military base of Reims to attend the mass. When he comes back, he knows. He is going to ask Him to write the preface of his book, he should then see his work in print. Then, a rather unexpected and most surprising event occurs : he gets in touch with the Archdiocese of Paris that sends him to the nunciature to the attention of His Eminence Lorenzo Frana, the Holy See’s UNESCO representative. The day after the telephone call to the nunciature, he is introduced to His Eminence Lorenzo Frana who commits himself to get Jean-Michel an audience with the Holy Father.
Three months later, he is face to face with Pope John-Paul II, he gives him his book as a present and asks him whether he accepted to write the preface. Nobody had ever ventured to ask the Holy Father for such a favour, a cardinal stated. He is proposed to ask Cardinal Etchégarray, but the Holy Father asks him THE question that was going to change his life : “Have you investigated the matter in your own country, my child?” No, I have not, in our country the cloud remained at the borderline, Jean-Michel thinks …
Back to France, he meets His Grace Michael, archbishop of the Ukrainian church who asks him the same question … Now, the message is clear enough, then, it is in France that he will investigate for the coming months. The pieces of the puzzle will thus be set up trough meetings with epidemiologists and cancerologists. The head of the INSERM refers him to the only person having accurate records of the number of thyroid cancers since 1966, that is to say 20 years back, and who has also done an updated record on the 1986-1996 decade. The results are worrying, meetings go on … the CRII-Rad welcomes him and opens its records.
It is another book that is taking shape now, a controversial work whose preface a cardinal cannot write. Again, chance will put an important man in Jean-Michel’s path, Mr. Théodore Monod. The great wise man will write the preface of the first book published in October 1998 :
That famous cloud … Chernobyl,
As soon as his work appears in bookshop windows, Jean-Michel is invited by Yves Calvi on a Europe1 radio broadcast programme. The radio station’s switchboard is soon overwhelmed by phone calls, the French are interested in the matter ! The following week, Jean-Michel takes his car, and after only a few miles, the rear wheel bends, his car rolls over five times. A strange accident, that is it !
The process sets off and as early as in February 1999, the thyroid sick persons found an association. Jean-Michel is appointed member of honour and becomes the person responsible for the relationships with the press. Radio programmes, television reports help the case to develop. The book, soon out of print, is republished in an updated version, and quickly the sick decide to lodge a complaint. The first ones are lodged against the Ministers of the government at the time, but the plaintiffs are very quickly nonsuited. The Association of the sick lodges 50 complaints that will soon be followed by another 125 additional ones, and 200 more. His meeting with the sick persons gives birth to a second book :
Chernobyl today, the French are sick
In the meantime, Jean-Michel’s one-bedroom apartment is destroyed by a fire, the electrical radiator switched on by itself on July 7, causing a short circuit as nobody was in there …
Jean-Michel’s initiative and fight motivate the IPSN and the InVs, as the President of the Opri states, to start an epidemiological study on the consequences of thyroid cancer diseases in France. The report is made public on December 15, 2000 and is strongly criticized in a 30-page chapter of : Chernobyl today the French are sick. His investigations “bring into light” the excellent Corsican ORS report that had remained unknown for nearly 14 years, and how instructive this report was !
His meeting with Jean-Guy Talamoni, President of the European commission of the Corsican territorial Assembly leads to a vote on October 30, 2000 thanks to which the assembly asks for an epidemiological study to be carried out on the Corsican Island.
A third written work is published in April 2002 :
Chernobyl, the consequences in France : I ACCUSE !
This time, he will be stabbed 8 times …
The interest of his approach is that he naïvely discovered the topic, without knowing anything about the subject, without being prejudiced for or against nuclear power. His misfortune – to have lost everything he had - has become his luck. Indeed, loosing everything, he did not have anything else to loose, and therefore felt free to head into the adventure. He has thus been able to measure the power of the nuclear lobby since several physicians or professors gave him some information refusing that their identities be revealed for fear of any pressure on them.
The adventure still goes on with his coming book : Guilty to be victims.
But also with his next book about Chernobyl and some stunning disclosures for the 20th anniversary, in 2006 …
Please, do hide that cloud that I would not see ..