Newspaper: The Dickinsonian
Date: April 26, 1979
Article: After Harrisburg nuclear incident anti-nuke campaign gains speed
Author: unknown

“Nobody needed this vote to know that Harrisburg had, in a weird way, muddled the mind of the anti-nuclear movement. This is just going to muddle it more,” said a spokeswoman for Austin (Texas) Citizens for Economical Energy. Her group had been trying to get the city out of the South Texas Nuclear Project. In February, a poll showed nearly 60 percent of the people favored the project. By the time of the April 6 vote – nine days after the March 28 Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg began to malfunction – the race narrowed dramatically. The anti-nuclear forces eventually gathered 49 percent of the vote.

It was, of course, only a relative success for the anti-nuclear movement, and that may discourage further attempts to use the ballot to protest nuclear power. The anti-nuclear forces had been showing signs of restiveness at recent gatherings. The accident at Three Mile Island has undoubtedly weakened public confidence in nuclear power, and anti-nuclear activists seem anxious to capitalize on the advantage. The question is how.

Subsequent demonstrations have ranged from a big, relatively calm gathering in San Francisco to civil disobedience in Connecticut to sabotage in Europe.

“The really weird thing,” said the Austin spokeswoman, who requested anonymity, “is that Harrisburg should have been the best worst thing that could happen for opponents of nuclear power. But we can see here that Harrisburg has made a lot of people angrier. They want to do dramatic things now.” She defined “dramatic” as “sit-ins, mass marches, loud things.”

She also feared that “there’s a tactical split in the movement now, at least here. We’ve made steady, orderly progress toward stopping nuclear power. That more violent demonstrations can disrupt that progress – turn people against us – is a worrisome thing.”

Commercial nuclear power has been on the retreat for several years. The reactor industry measures its health by the number of reactor orders received each year. There were no orders in either 1976 or 1977, and only two in 1978. But it costs reactor builders like Westinghouse and General Atomic millions just to maintain the capacity to build reactors, whether or not orders are received.

As a result, Fortune magazine observed two weeks before Harrisburg that unless the “stalemate” between nuclear power advocates and opponents was broken, the capital costs of keeping the reactor industry alive could not be mainainted. The magazine predicted the industry would thus collapse by 1981.

The largest and best-known anti-nuclear group, the Clamshell Alliance in New England, has been coping with internal tensions over tactics since last June. Contemplating a massive demonstration at the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire, the Alliance accepted a last-minute offer from then-Governor Meldrim Thompson to legally meet in a nearby garbage dump. But regional coordinators were furious over the executive committee’s acceptance of the compromise, and serious differences over regional autonomy and civil disobedience surfaced.

“The question of civil disobedience tactics is very real.” Clamshell spokesman Bob Hurwitz said. “One of the central questions is . . . how to maintain a direct action, nonviolent movement that insures each region’s autonomy.”

Clam member Guy Chichester adds, “There is an anarchistic element who argues that sanctity if life is more important than sanctity of property.”

“They feel each Clam should have a high degree of autonomy. Others felt there ought to be rigid guidelines. Guidelines or no guidelines, that’s one of the biggest bits of unfinished business.”

The Alliance couldn’t resolve the issue at its January conference. As a result, the plans for the summer, when all involved expected to intensify the anti nuclear campaign, are relatively uncoordinated. “There are several actions of various sorts – legal and illegal – planned by some of the state Clams,” Hurwitz noted.

The immediate aftermath of the Harrisburg accident reflected a similar disparity of tactics.

On April 7 a crowd of around 7000 peacefully listened to anti-nuclear speeches by Ralph Nader and Daniel Ellsberg in San Francisco, at a rally organized by the Abalone Alliance. Specifically the five-hour gathering was a protest against Pacific Gas & Electric’s $1.4 billion Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is located with 2.5 miles of the San Gregorio Hosgri earthquake fault.

Barbara Bowman of the East Bay Anti-Nuclear Group, one of the Alliance’s component parts, said “our overall tactics have not changed significantly” since the Three Mile Island plant began to leak radioactive steam. Her group will continue “legal intervention” into Diablo Canyon’s procedures.