Huge Anti-Nuke Demo was 30 Years Ago This Week
Huge Anti-Nuke Demo was 30 Years Ago This Week
CONCORD, N.H. -- Thirty years ago this week, hundreds of anti-nuclear demonstrators trekked down a dusty road and set up camp next to piles of construction material destined to become the Seabrook nuclear power plant.
Police dragged or carried away 1,414 protesters on May 1, 1977, ending the skirmish, but galvanizing 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.
Fast forward to today.
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 collossal mistake that would really trivialize the Seabrook debacle," he said. "Because right now we have maybe 10 to 20 years to make some very critical energy policy decisions that affect global climate."
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 at 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 grassroots, 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 Griffith 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," Griffith 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, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project at the anti-nuclear Nuclear Information and Resource Service, 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.
Griffith responds thdat 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 H. 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.
On the Net:
Clamshell Alliance: www.clamshell-tvs.org
Nuclear Energy Institute: www.nei.org
Nuclear Information and Resource Service: www.nirs.org
Seabrook Station, Florida Power & Light: www.fpl.com
Copyright 2007 Associated Press