Home > childhood, environment, friends, politics, work > nuclear power and me (part 1)

nuclear power and me (part 1)

The recent events in Japan have had me engaged in thinking about nuclear power in a way that I have not for many years. I have had an intimate connection with nuclear power for pretty much as long as I can remember growing up in fermi country on the eastern shores of lake erie. My earliest memories of nuclear power is the propaganda comics we would get once a year in science class when detroit edison covered the education.

the fermi 2 nuclear power plant went from planning to construction to trying to come online when i was in high school. having had it be a presence for as long as i could remember i never thought to ask why it was called fermi 2. i mostly remember the coloring book with mickey mouse riding in goofy’s jalopy and telling him to air up his tires to save energy. goofy preferred the smooth ride of under inflation. i also learned about background radiation and the unreasonable fear ignorant country people have of things that are new. nuclear power was the promise of the future. even my hot wheels went nuclear. tired of having to go to the imaginary gas station every so often the cars switched to nuclear fuel. a handful of powder and they’d run for life. aircraft carriers ran on it. silly scared people who don’t know nothing.

In 7th grade science class Mr Lowney organic asparagus farmer did his own bit on nuclear. He presented its dangers and promises (fermi 2 was running into billions over budget and years behind schedule at this point) and told us about fermi 1, the day we almost lost detroit. when we moved to debate i was the only proponent. fermi 1 was an experimental fast breeder reactor not the really cool GE Mark 2 reactor we were gonna get. sure there is risk from radioactivity but there is risks in not having electricity too. try running your hospital without it and see who loses more lives. sure waste is a problem but gosh darn it we’re just getting smarter every day. I already knew you couldn’t win debates with teachers but i felt i held my own. the voice of reason.

In 11th grade i had technical writing and we did a speech to persuade. I was eager to do nuclear power because i already knew the material and had already waded through a lot of science for an english class. the pro nuclear position was already taken so i was forced into taking anti-nuke or having to learn something. I prided myself for the easy way out and the little as possible model of formal education. I was crushing a novel a day in that era so i can see how school work was an obstruction. I was also hanging out with scott woodward at the macomb branch library and decided to do some research, bone up on what’s happening since 7th grade (fermi 2 is still over budget and still under construction).

I am horrified by the facts because i had not yet come to understand the sublime in the face of nuclear horror. I read the Monroe Evening News article from the day after the near meltdown of fermi 1 after perusing the day we almost lost detroit and learned about the china syndrome. It was one paragraph long from the second page and said plant operators handled an incident in an admirable fashion according to training. Kudos to them.

Mostly though it was the waste. I learned that spent fuel means that it has become so highly radiated that it can no longer be used. That with its half life it would be two hundred thousand years until it was safe and we have no idea how to safely store this shit for any where of even a fraction of that. I learned there was enough low level radiation waste to pave  a coast to coast highway and that every nuclear waste storage facility radiation had migrated into the ground water. I was horrified and convinced. I was anti-nuclear. the first brick had popped out of the right wing wall i had built my political ideals.

Ultimately I would question a system that would devise such a monstrously fiendish boondoggle on us country folk with a taste for walleye. Why did we need a nuclear power plant when we already had the third biggest coal fired plant in the world? How were we selected to be the environmental sacrifice zone? jesus pushed me over the edge with his words “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. bam, like a stroke of lightning i knew war was wrong and i was off to the races. from right wing republican to anarchist within days as i followed the obvious implications of being anti-war. I rejected anarchy as naive and ultimately evolved into a democratic socialist type until my ultimate embrace of decentralization and participatory democracy and that i was really back to being an anarchist. having been everything now i don’t see it changing.

Fermi 2 ultimately got close to opening. in my research i found out about nuclear protesters as not just historical relic but as happening now. Well sort of. I went to some 1o people protests mostly old nuns. I bought some buttons and told them i wanted to help. I waved a sign or two. Wow 12 people with signs or the finishing touches on your 6 billion dollar investment. the plant opened with fits and starts and the 10 people went away. I went to college.

The first gulf war changed my brother john and me. John wanted to hang a banner when i got home from the psych unit afternoon shift he had painted “wage peace” on a sheet and wanted to climb a power tower and hang it the night the bombing started. “high voltage message” and peace was on the front page along with the war. never doubt a small group of dedicated people could change the media message in a small town paper. we went to protests and were part of a million people saying no to war. it was life changing.

After the war we drove down to east liver pool ohio and protested a toxic waste incinerator coming on line with martin sheen and all. Discovered SEAC, the student environmental action coalition and started organizing anti-statist pro-planet radical environmental events. it was great. changed my life. we were all in.At Frankies, this club in east toledo a door man said he was gonna jump off the martin luther king bridge for the anniversary of steven biko’s death. He said he jumped all the time and just swam to the docks, once he did it 7 times in a row. I remembered i’d seen one of his early ones in the paper. We jumped that night and it was cool. my brother was there and thought since it hadn’t been in the paper for awhile we could probably put anything we wanted in the paper with a little planning.

We looked in the calendar and the anniversary of fermi 1 was coming up. we sent press releases and organized a march from international park to the center of the bridge. Joe Mold and I got up and held a banner gave a short speech and took off our shirts and jumped in. no tv, the trucks were late and we felt we risked arrest if we waited. We swam to a sail boat to avoid the cops and sailed away drinking grog and glad we didn’t die in the cold maumee in october.

After I got my masters i was aimless and ended up being a full time field organizer for SEAC, hitching around Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri teaching kids how to cause trouble for a good cause. Jousted with NAFTA, the wise use movement, made a lot of connections, and got my first death threats. the woods is a dangerous place to be antilogging and lead country does not want anti-lead activists cleaning up flood damage. they’ll shoot you for wanting to pick up garbage if you don’t agree with him.

Fermi 2 ran on until christmas day 1993 the turbine threw a blade (a big un) and it ripped around the containment building. shut it down and some water got contaminated. i was home for christmas and john was still in town. better coverage then fermi 1. we both thought they would dilute it and dump it in the lake. really, what else are you gonna do with that stuff??? John was on it. organized some protests and a public hearing and 700 people turned out. started blockading the plant with bodies, people getting arrested.

I was field organizing in the ozarks as things heated up that summer when they wanted to dump the water in the lake. I came home early and called in debts from all the kids whose backyards I had been busting my hump to save and finagled SEAC to sponsor an event The Grassroots National Action Festival, we got the local coalition (CRAFT -Citizens Resistance At Fermi Two, great acronymn), the radical version we had spun off when CRAFT wanted to say no to stupid stuff we wanted to do (Zebra Mussel Alliance), and Green Peace and Earthfirst! who never worked together. we had a lot of energy and we had ruled the local media for months. My mom never really respected our choice to be radical activists until people she watched on tv started to call the house to find out what’s going on. it was beautiful.

I had gotten arrested in a blockade get dragged off scenario. There were two gates and we could only force arrests by blocking both. It got routine. Fermi was getting ready to come back on line so we decided to throw everything we had at it. In the woods we cut down 6 30′ trees and made tripods. We made three barrels filled with cement with pipe through the center big enough for an arm intersecting a piece of rebar. We bought handcuffs, steve merrix got an employee discount at the adult bookstore. we used the tools we had, could borrow, or steal.

The event came. three big protests in three days. we hit detroit edison headquarters with a handful of high profile arrests. We covered the statue of general custer (unfortunate favorite son of monroe michigan) with yarn weaving a web of peace over the nuclear war machine. (fermi 1 was a fast breeder to make bomb stuff and was defended by the Nike nuclear missile base which became a park which we reserved to camp our protesters [it really is all connected]. We brought up as guest speaker a native activist who was opposing a consortium of power companies trying to site a dump on her land. (detroit edison dropped out shortly later). On day 3 we borrowed Mark and Mike’s anti-nuke bus (no we won’t use it for anything illegal, its cool). we loaded up our team, the tripods and the barrels. We had announced we would blockade the plant at 2:00 pm on a sunday afternoon. the police were out in force and lined up by the gates with the media ready for a nice but big typical thing like we’d been doing.

We stopped in the road leading up to the plant and threw up three tripods with activists chained to the top within two minutes while the police looked on in disbelief. We drove the bus up the road pulled on to the main one dixie highway and pulled the bus across both lanes and stopped traffic. We pulled out our barrels  and started to block the road, “roads closed folks”. One lady said her son had a little league game so we waved her through. a dude in a truck said he was going to work. “sorry the roads closed”. “I’ve got a tire iron that says its open”. “Hey get a camera on that guy he says he’s gonna hit me” as i handcuffed up to the barrels. The road was closed, the plant was blockaded as promised over a month ago at 2:00 on a sunday afternoon.

to be continued….

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