In California, the Abalone Alliance (named for the red abalone who were killed in Diablo Cove) began fighting the construction of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in 1977. This power plant was constructed on the Pacific coast near San Luis Obispo over a Chumash Indian burial site. It was located on the San Andreas fault, as well as the Hosgri fault two and a half miles offshore. Seawater is used to cool the reactors and on several occasions, jellyfish, marine animals and kelp have obstructed operations. Blockades and occupations at Diablo Canyon from 1977 to 1984 failed to stop the construction of the plant. According to David Hartsough [Waging Peace, 2014], “the original price tag for the plant had been estimated at $300 million. When it finally opened in 1985, construction costs were $5.8 billion, with an additional $7 billion in financing costs.”
Concerns about the Diablo Canyon plant have continued, particularly after the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March 2011, as Diablo Canyon is also in an area prone to earthquakes. After the shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 1913, Diablo Canyon was the last nuclear power plant operating in California. PG&E said in June, 2016, that it would not seek to renew the Diablo Canyon reactors’ operating licenses past 2025 and will replace its power with renewable energy sources.
While in jail for their protests at Diablo Canyon, activists formed the Livermore Action Group which tried from 1981 to 1984 to shut down the Lawrence Livermore National Lab where nuclear weapons are designed and tested. The group was organized into 20-person affinity groups which could act flexibly and independently. To be part of the protest, one had to go through non-violence training and be a member of an affinity group. Groups took on various levels of risk, appealing to a wide public, though it failed in its stated purpose. Barbara Epstein [Political Protest and Cultural Revolution, 1993] argues that it succeeded in its demonstration of the principles of egalitarianism and nonviolence in political activism.
In April of 1986, an explosion and fire in a nuclear plant in Chernobyl Russia spread radioactivity over much of western Russian and Europe. It was the worst such disaster to that point, leading to the abandonment of the town of Pripyat and many claims about the consequences in terms of damage to humans. It forced the Soviet Union to become less secretive and was a factor in “glasnost,” which paved the way for the Soviet collapse. After this, reliance on nuclear power for energy consumption was slowed or reversed.
In March 2011, an earthquake and the resulting tsunami perpetuated an accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. One of the reactors overheated, leading to meltdown and the release of radioactive materials. An investigative committee concluded that “a culture of complacency about nuclear safety and poor crisis management led to the nuclear disaster.”
In the July 14, 2016 issue of The New York Review of Books, Governor Jerry Brown of California recently reviewed a book by William Perry here. Perry notes: “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” Clearly, complacence about nuclear weapons and safety are still a part of America’s culture as well.
Of our three protagonists, Line is the closest to anti-nuclear activism. Her husband Stephen is involved in the Diablo Canyon protests, and she and the whole family attend the blockade at Lawrence Livermore Labs on the International Day of Nuclear Disarmament in June, 1983.