By Bonnie Urfer

The Nuclear Free Great Lakes Action Camp moved us a step away from the Nuclear Age and a step closer to the "Age of Energy Common Sense." The first action camp, sponsored by seven environmental and peace organizations, drew hundreds of people to Camp Soni Springs, south of Three Oaks, Michigan, August 13 through 19. The focus of the campaign was to shut down all 37 nuclear reactors in the Great Lakes basin while implementing a widespread renewable energy program.

Thirty-seven commercial nuclear reactors, six uranium mining and production sites, nine radioactive waste dumps and the continued generation of deadly radioactive waste all threaten a precious and unique ecosystem -- an ecosystem that houses over 40 million people and 20% of the world's fresh surface water. Federal regulators in both the U.S. and Canada have been systematically "reducing the regulatory burden" on the nuclear industry by weakening or selectively enforcing standards and regulations. They have been progressively removing or constraining the public's ability to scrutinize and intervene on nuclear safety issues.

The nuclear reactor industry claims nuclear power is safe, clean and the answer to global warming. The history of the dangers and deceit were brought to the surface during the six days of rallies and action camp workshops by numerous renowned presenters who came from all across the country and Canada -- each with enough knowledge to leave participants in a state of shock, fear and amazement that any reactors operate at all.

Ann Harris worked for Tennessee Valley Authority. As a former employee she assured her audience that what the public knows about reactor failings pales in comparison with what those who work inside know. Some of the other experts included Ernest Sternglass, David Lochbaum, Diane D'Arrigo, Arjun Makhijani, Judith Johnsrud and Karl Grossman.

Camp participants had numerous choices for workshops that covered: radioactivity, nuclear power and decommissioning, the history of social change movements, Y2K, nuclear weapons, nonviolence and direct action, fundraising, the NRC, whistleblowing and legal struggles, radioactive waste storage and problems, and organizing. Workshops on environmental justice addressed U.S. racism as indigenous tribes continue to bear the adverse effects of uranium mining and radioactive waste dumping. This year's action camp began with a rally in St. Joseph in southwestern Michigan. The rally included a parade along city streets and a visit to the office of U.S. Representative Fred Upton, supporter of the "Mobile Chernobyl Bill." A mock radioactive waste cask traveled the parade route to raise awareness about waste transportation. Giant puppets symbolizing corporate greed (nuclear power is the most expensive form of electricity) and radioactive mutation (all reactors regularly vent radiation into the atmosphere) joined the activist throng.

Throughout the week, students at the camp learned how to organize a campaign to oppose nuclear power. This year's crew will serve both as organizers for local actions on nuclear issues throughout the coming year, and as a source of organizers for next Summer's camp. Effective, ongoing training and the cultivation of environmental activists are the only viable means of opposing the conglomeration of environmentally abusive nuclear power interests.

As part of the action camp, petitions were circulated to begin a legal challenge to federal, state and local legislatures, public officials and the International Joint Commission regarding their support for or indifference toward nuclear reactor operations. The petitions will be filed in an effort to protect the general public from the nuclear industry's economic and ecological risks.

Resistance to D.C. Cook The action camp focused on the D.C. Cook power reactor hoping to keep it from restarting, given its unacceptable safety shortfalls -- including a lack of Y2K preparedness.

Once considered one of the premier nuclear reactors in the U.S., D.C. Cook's twin reactors have now been shut-down for two years. NCR inspectors, during a 1997 token inspection of six of over 100 reactors, discovered that 13,000 pounds of "extraneous materials" clogged the reactor's emergency cooling water flows -- workers dragged out everything from insulation, paint, rust, tape and filters, to tools, gloves and condoms.

Federal regulators fined Cook's operators $500,000. According to NRC's James L. Caldwell, the fine reflected "the particularly poor performance, the duration of the problems, the impact on the emergency core cooling system and containment and the NRC's concerns regarding these violations." Altogether the NRC found 61 safety violations and consolidated them into 37 that needed correcting before the reactors could restart. American Electric Power, which owns the reactors, claimed they were ready to power-up in December of 1997 but another inspection showed that the ice condensers, used to cool the reactor in an emergency, had serious problems. The mandatory shut-down continues.

Every reactor experiences a national average of more than two "hot scrams" or fast shut-downs per year. Cook could have experienced a melt-down if something had failed during the eight years it operated with a clogged cooling system. Cook's owners and operators wanted to restart the reactor recently, even though backup generators did not work.

Over 100 people gathered at the entrance to Cook on August 19 in protest of utility plans to restart the reactors in the Spring of 2000.

The crowd was treated to a skit with huge puppets -- some of which were created at the action camp -- music and excellent speakers. Police tape festooned the area, designated the legal rally space and let resisters know where trespass began. In early Spring, organizers began negotiations with numerous police agencies to secure a place for the legal rally at the reactor's entrance road. Action camp planners, with an attitude of openness, let Cook officials and police know that committed individuals would be trespassing on Cook property. Civil resistance heightens awareness to the dangers of nuclear power in part by grabbing media attention which in turn provides the greatest chance for changing energy policies.

Workshops offered at the camp provided the impetus needed for 17 people to "cross the line." Approximately 30 Michigan State Patrol officers attended the event and 35 County deputies at a cost to Berrien County of at least $2,000. A pack of reporters showed up to cover the camp, the rally and the civil disobedience.

The trespass action went as planned. Each activist made a statement before entering into forbidden territory. Once across the line, police handcuffed and loaded the individuals into three waiting vans. The Berrien County Sheriff's Department released all 17 activists after each paid a $50 bail. Ten of the people arrested pleaded "not guilty" at the September 2 arraignment and now await notice of a trial date.

Nukewatch facilitated the action planning, including nine hours of training and affinity group formation to cover peacekeeping, arrest and support, and the planning of the legal rally at the reactor site.

Partners in the Nuclear Free Great Lakes Campaign include: Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana in South Bend; the Coalition for a Nuclear Free Great Lakes in Monroe, MI; Don't Waste Michigan in Grand Rapids; Nuclear Energy Information Service, Evanston, IL; World Tree Peace Center & Chernobyl Children's Project, Kalamazoo, MI; the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington; Nuclear Awareness Project in Uxbridge, Ontario; North American Water Office/Prairie Island Coalition, Lake Elmo, MN and Nukewatch.

There are plenty of reasons for continuing resistance to nuclear power reactors just as there are for opposing nuclear weapons. We must get on with the work of figuring out how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive waste produced by these hideous steam engines.

The power of forms of resistance like massive blockades stems from the strength of their "affinity groups" - small communities woven into a larger one. In such communities we can learn the true meaning of conspiracy: "breathing together" the Spirit of life and being formed by that spirit into people faithful to the covenant of love -- the law written in our hearts.
-- Anne Montgomery, R.S.C.J., Swords Into Plowshares