Stories from Hartford's Grassroots
Nuclear power was once considered “too cheap to meter.” The “peaceful atom” was a spurious claim spread by nuke proponents, with little public opposition, after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Dominion Energy, owner of the Millstone nuclear plant, has failed to convince our Connecticut General Assembly that it needs a new deal to ensure long-term profits. The defeat signals another corporate myth that’s been debunked. Dominion and its welfare scheme is “a toxic brand now, literally radioactive,”
said Rep. Lonnie Reed, co-chair of the Energy Committee last week. “Let’s let it go and figure out a new way.”
What’s all the fuss about Millstone, our fourth and final nuclear plant in Waterford? It’s deceptively simple. Dominion’s plant creates the extremely dangerous process of nuclear fission– to boil water. The steam, in turn, runs a generator to make electricity. This has been compared to using a buzz saw to cut butter.
In the 1950s, Atoms for Peace was a Madison Avenue conceit designed to convince the public that uranium wasn’t just for atomic explosions. The radioactive process could be harnessed as a “giant of limitless power,” General Electric boasted.
Then in the 1970s came the Clamshell Alliance, the first of the grassroots organizations that sprung up around the country to oppose nukes. They used nonviolent direct action and popular education to expose and prevent the imminent dangers posed by commercial nuclear power.
The group also stressed that nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants are inextricably linked, since they employ the same radioactive element that can cause potential disasters. Their predictions were later confirmed by Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima.
The Clamshell Alliance was born on the New Hampshire sea coast and quickly grew into a New England-wide network that included a dozen Connecticut affiliates. It was organized by local sea coast residents who figured they should have a say whether or not two Seabrook nuclear units should be built near the popular Hampton Beach.
On May 1 1977, more than 1,400 people, including at least 200 from our state, were arrested after occupying the Seabrook construction site. They were trained in civil disobedience and prepared to take up permanent residence to prevent the nuke’s operation. It remains one of the biggest nonviolent direct actions in U.S. history.
The Clams were packed into New Hampshire state armories and jails for two weeks, insisting on release on their own recognizance and refusing bail (full disclosure: my two Seabrook arrests led to a total of eight days in jail).
To our regret, Governor Ella Grasso provided Connecticut state police to assist the New Hampshire force on more than one occasion. In the fall of 1978, the Connecticut cops used their batons to beat anti-nuke protesters (unaffiliated with Clamshell or nonviolence) who were planning to breach the Seabrook fences, according to a local Seabrook resident.
The Alliance stood on the legal principle of “competing harms,” i.e. breaking a minor law to prevent a catastrophe. Sister Carolyn Jean Dupuy of Hartford was the first protester to be prosecuted; she was sentenced to six months in jail for the simple act of trespassing.
Why such an extreme reaction by the authorities? Because the Seabrook action touched a nerve. Over the years the public has realized that the dangers of nuclear power far outweigh its benefits:
–Nukes are too expensive to build, so even Wall Street won’t finance them. Instead they must be subsidized by the federal government;
–Nukes are too expensive to insure, so the government must once again step in and provide insurance coverage for the energy corporations;
–Nuclear waste has no permanent storage facility, despite a plan that was started in 1982. Instead, there’s a patchwork of 100 temporary sites –like the roofs of operating plants– that provide an easy target all across the country for terrorists;
— Nuke advocates say they produce “clean,” and “carbon free” energy, but the entire chain of the nuclear process is anything but. Uranium mining, processing, extraction, and transportation, not to mention accidents and leaks, have left a legacy of contamination and cancer;
— There is no place to hide from a nuclear meltdown. Despite the official plans to evacuate southeastern Connecticut– an entire population by highway, no less — any attempt to escape radiation poisoning will be in vain, a futile and chaotic exercise. And finally,
–Nuclear power is not profitable without massive subsidies, as Dominion has conceded. Better energy solutions are becoming cheaper. The Virginia- based company wanted Connecticut to guarantee long-term profits, even if demand for their energy drops. This is just one way the nuclear pushers crave public welfare to stay in business.
In the 1950s we were subjected to the nuclear industry’s cartoon defense of atomic power (recall Redi Kilowatt). But the era also introduced us to Godzilla, the monster awakened by an atomic blast. The movie beast came back for 18 sequels.
Dominion Energy, too, will be back with its army of lobbyists, and brand new schemes to cajole or threaten our state for its own private profit.
This year, on the 40th anniversary of the Clamshell Alliance’s occupation of Seabrook, Godzilla reminds us that a nuclear monster is really, really hard to kill.