Volcano Project Draws Fire in France

Article excerpt

The massive `European Park of Vulcanology', France's "only great cultural project of the year 2000" according to former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, hopes to attract half a million visitors a year to the relatively poor Auvergne region when it opens in spring next year. Like London's Millennium Dome, however, the `Vulcania' project continues to draw opposition from environmentalists, Green politicians and local residents, many of whom are concerned at the spiralling cost and likely impact of the centre.

Despite protests, little of the centre will be seen at ground level apart from the cone-shaped reception area. Much of the 15,000-square-metre complex is being built underground amid Auvergne's extraordinary volcanic heart. On three subterranean levels visitors will be offered a virtual tour via giant screens and loud speakers of the eruptions of Vesuvius, Mount Etna or Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, in Hawaii. Volcanic geysers, the movement of volcanic plates and lava flows will all form part of the `Vulcania experience'. Exhibitions will also explain the role and techniques of volcanic surveillance.

But getting the centre off the ground, or rather into it, has been a stormy ride. An alliance of environmental groups including WWF France, Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth), and Green politicians have opposed several aspects of the project. From the beginning they campaigned for a different location, not within the volcanoes, but on the adjacent plain or in a former quarry north of Clermond-Ferrand. …

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