Last weekend, as Sierra Club’s No Nukes Team hosted its Summit in Washington, D.C., Japan’s last running nuclear reactor was turned off, leaving Japan without nuclear power for the first time since 1966.
Though of course the No Nukes Team did not cause this, it nonetheless represents a sea change in public sentiment as a result of the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi and is a harbinger of what could happen here in the United States (which has 23 Mark 1 reactors of similar design to those at Fukushima).
I participated in the Summit as a facilitator, and as with most meetings with passionate activists, there was some herding of cats, but overall, it exceeded my expectations. I believe it also exceeded the expectations of most participants, certainly the core team leaders.
The weekend combined learning from experts (Friday night and Saturday) and campaign planning (Sunday) — more than 80 people came for at least part of the weekend, including several directors and staff. On Sunday, about 50 people participated in a campaign planning session led by Lawson Legate, Eastern Region Organizing Director.
The Summit kicked off Friday night with a tribute from Sierra Club President Robin Mann to longtime anti-nuclear activist Dr. Judith Johnsrud.
Dr. Judith Johnsrud receives quilted tribute from Linda Modica and Susan Corbett.
The lineup of experts at the Summit was impressive enough that a two-person video crew came out from California at their own expense to film it. Among the speakers were:
Dave Freeman, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and now a prominent anti-nuclear spokeperson (“Anyone who would substitute plutonium for carbon is an idiot”),
Arjun Mahkijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (and recent candidate for the Club board),
Marvin Resnikoff, a nuclear physicist and former chair of the Club’s nuclear energy subcommittee in the late 1970s,
Arnie Gunderson, a licensed nuclear reactor operator, who is now chief engineer for Fairewinds Energy Education (“No plant has been stopped because it’s unsafe, but because safety issues made it too costly”),
Diane D’Arrigo, an expert on low-level nuclear waste, core team leader of the Club No Nukes Team, and staffer at Nuclear Information and Resource Center, and
Robert Alvarez, former DOE staffer, now senior scholar at Institute of Policy Studies, an expert on the economics of nuclear power.
Leslie March, who coordinated the summit, said, “We were hanging out with the rock stars of the movement. We had people calling us to get on the program.”
The summit was supported by a $9,000 grant from the Activist Network, and the team also received a $3,000 donation from Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Almost all participants paid for their own travel and accommodations, though there were ten scholarships. At least ten people joined the Club to participate in the Summit!
On Sunday, Lawson broke the participants into four “outcome topic” groups — stopping new nukes; shutting down existing nukes; addressing radioactive waste (low-level/high level); and addressing the “front end,” including mining, milling, and enrichment — with the goal of identifying meaningful outcomes that could be achieved in the next six months to a year. The idea was to start drafting a campaign plan that uses the same language (i.e., outcomes, pathways, tactics) and templates as the priority campaigns like Beyond Coal.
The four breakout groups met three times together on Sunday to develop and prioritize a set of “pathways” to help the core team turn into a campaign plan. All the participants “voted” on each proposed pathway with green dots. One example: Identify vulnerable reactors (or class of reactors like the Mark 1 plants of similar design to those at Fukushima), hammer away at those problems, and promote clean energy alternatives. (In other words: Adopt a plant, then kill it.)
Staffing and money came up repeatedly, but most people understood that while there are no guarantees, the best way to get additional resources is to develop a compelling plan that uses the same language and metrics as other Club campaigns, share it widely with appropriate parties in the Club, like the other energy campaigns, chapters where there are vulnerable reactors, and so on, and then implement it.
I am committed to helping the core team do the necessary follow-up to craft a serious, ambitious, but achievable campaign plan. Annette Rizzo from the D.C. staff, who has written many campaign plans, has also agreed to help. The opportunity to inspire and engage people on this issue is ripe.
This team has come a long way. They have a strong committed and knowledgeable core team — Susan Corbett, Diane D’Arrigo, Brian Paddock, Steve Sondheim, Leslie March, Edgar Freud, Linda Modica, Pat Marida, and Jane Feldman (who was not able to come). They deserve kudos for the experts they pulled together, the participants they recruited to come, the inspiring weekend, and the commitment to develop a serious campaign plan.
P.S. On Monday, a delegation of more than a dozen participants in the summit went to Capitol Hill for meetings with senators and congressmembers from California, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon and Tennessee.
(left) Dave Freeman: “The industry itself is bragging about how dangerous it is. They say the new plants are much safer than the old ones. We need to turn it around, focus on how dangerous the old ones are.”
(right) Diane D’Arrigo reports on the low-level and high-level waste groups.
Lawson Legate leads Sunday planning session.
(Also posted in No Nukes Team blog.)