30 years later, another nuclear struggle looms

NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA – 30 years later, another nuclear struggle looms

Published: April 30, 2007 11:46 pm print this story email this story30 years later, another nuclear struggle looms
Staff reports

Clamshell imageFor Chris Nord, April 30, 2007, was in some ways not so different from April 30, 1977. In each case, he was acting as a watchdog of nuclear power, more specifically the Seabrook nuclear power plant. The difference: This year, he wasn’t arrested.

Nord was one of the more than 1,414 protesters taken away — some dragged, others like Nord taken willingly — from the future site of Seabrook Station 30 years ago today.

Yesterday, he was on a 32-foot ladder at Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury updating some of the most advanced radiation monitoring equipment in the country, working for C-10, a publicly funded nuclear monitoring agency located in Newburyport.

“It seemed in a way it was an appropriate thing to be doing 30 years later,” Nord said.

For Nord, who would later move to Newburyport, which is inside the 10-mile evacuation radius, and many like him, today is the anniversary of a historic act of civil disobedience that became part of a lifetime of activism.

With energy prices skyrocketing, global warming and calls for cleaner energy abounding, the nuclear industry is optimistic about a resurgence. And the anti-nuclear movement, including organizers of the Seabrook protests, is gearing up to respond.

Paul Gunter, who has made opposing nuclear power his career, is one.

“To ante up for another generation of nuclear power would be a colossal mistake that would really trivialize the Seabrook debacle,” said Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project at the anti-nuclear Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “Because right now we have maybe 10 to 20 years to make some very critical energy policy decisions that affect global climate.”

At the time, the protests galvanized a national anti-nuclear movement that moved from Seabrook’s marshes to national money markets to effectively halt orders for new plants in the United States.

Seabrook was proposed as a twin-reactor plant in 1972, at an estimated cost of $973 million. When it finally won a commercial license in March 1990, it was a single reactor and cost $6.5 billion.

Protests started early. The first person arrested at the future construction site was Ron Rieck, who spent 36 cold hours atop a weather observation tower in January 1976. Later that year, 18 people were arrested, then 180. Then came April 1977.

Arnie Alpert was an environmental science major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut when he learned of planned protests in Seabrook. After training in nonviolent resistance, he organized two busloads of students to travel to Seabrook.

They became part of the Clamshell Alliance, an umbrella group that organized into small “affinity groups” for training, decision-making and support. On April 30, they approached the plant property from all directions, even through the ocean swamps.

Gov. Meldrim Thomson said the demonstrations were “a front for terrorist activity” and organized a small army of National Guardsmen and police from around New England to respond.

“If I thought about it at all, it was a joke,” Alpert said in a recent interview. “We knew we were not a group of terrorists. We knew we were a group of people passionately committed to nonviolence.”

The group walked onto the site, unopposed, and immediately began setting up camp, digging latrines, having meetings and celebrating.

“I was surprised we got onto the site at all,” Alpert said.

The next day, a Sunday, Thomson ordered the protesters to leave to avoid confrontations with construction workers due back Monday.

Those who didn’t leave — 1,414 strong — were arrested on trespassing charges and held for more than two weeks in National Guard armories around the state. The protest attracted worldwide attention and sent ripples far beyond Seabrook.

“The Seabrook demonstration touched off a grass-roots, nonviolent insurgency against nuclear power that led to the creation of similar alliances around the country,” said Alpert. And he said the tactics and training spread to other causes, including peace and gay rights.

Now, some former Clamshell members find themselves focusing anew on nuclear power.

Spurred by skyrocketing energy prices, global warming and calls for cleaner energy, the industry is making a comeback. New federal laws have streamlined permitting and construction and removed much of the financial risk, and the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute says construction could start on multiple plants by around 2010.

At Seabrook, spokesman Alan Griffin recalls being in high school during the first anti-Seabrook demonstrations, then covering protests as a reporter and editor.

He said streamlining licensing would have helped Seabrook, which was ready to run in 1986, but not fully licensed for four more years.

“I get paid to say this stuff, but I truly believe as a person that this country must have more nuclear power plants for reasons that have become crystal clear over time,” Griffin said.

“It is the only major source of electricity that is able to generate electricity cleanly, with no greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “The anti’s have a different perspective on that, but that is one of the main reasons of the resurgence.”

But Gunter said there is no room for nuclear, period.

“Our position is that they should have never built any of these in the first place,” he said. “We went to jail to stop that. People should realize that we were right — and here we are 30 years after that demonstration and 50 years after the initiation of nuclear power, and they still don’t know what to do with the first cupful of nuclear waste.”

With no national repository, nuclear waste is being stored at nuclear plants, as “pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction,” Gunter said.

Griffin responds that whether a repository is built or not, nuclear plants “have the ability to safely and securely store their waste.”

And so the debate goes. Each argument has 180-degree opposite answers, including on questions of safety.

Gunter and Alpert, state program director for the American Friends Service Committee, maintain that much more energy could be saved and created if nuclear subsidies went instead to more efficient appliances, increased conservation and renewable sources.

John Sununu, former governor, engineer and sometime nuclear industry consultant, couldn’t disagree more. He said the long nuclear hiatus squandered an opportunity to provide clean energy much earlier, and it’s time to acknowledge it was a mistake.

“I hope it lays the foundation for a much better response by the nation as the second round of opportunity of getting away from coal and oil and natural gas occurs,” he said.

— Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Leave a Reply