Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

Samuel R. Tyson


In November, 1957, the Saturday Night Group(Modesto), Roy Keplers Peninsula friends, some East Bay folks, plus parts of the Rural Life Conference and latecomer the American Friends Service Committee(SF) held a public meeting in Livermore(Forester’s Hall). The crowd heard Linus Pauling on nuclear weapons. The meeting was chaired by Al Baez who later lost his job at Stanford. People caravaned in from all over Northern California to protest nuclear weapons testing in the air. The Foresters Hall in Livermore was too small, loudspeakers sent the speech outside to about another fifty people.

Out in the country, the same month, the ribbon was cut on the first experimental nuclear reactor for atomic power at Vallecitos. The facility to be run by General Electric was the start of the chliched "power too cheap to monitor." Rated at 5000 kilowatts, later upgraded to 10,000 kilowatts, it now has been closed for some years.

Locally the Modesto Bee began plumping the merits of nuclear power in the early 1970’s. At the time the Atomic Energy Commission (Federal) was both the pusher of atomic power and was supposed to protect the public from radiation problems. Such an absurdity was expected to be solved with the creation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Since the U.S. government needed the civilian use of nuclear power as a counter to increasing opposition to nuclear weapons, it pushed atomic energy creating the Atom for Peace program to export nuclear reactors and their technology.

The first local questioning of nuclear power came in the Fall of 1973 when Norma Lowry(Sierra Club) set up a meeting in the old Modesto Irrigation District Auditorium(MID), I believe the speakers were from the Radiation Lab(Rad Lab) and General Electric, a nuclear reactor purveyor. The meeting was well attended, the message ambivalent. The audience was not yet well informed. Sometime in the Spring of 1973 I got the word Life inserted in the Modesto Peace Center name because it seemed certain that sponsors of the Center would say nuclear power was not a peace issue. There was enough play in the Modesto Bee and other media about the desirability of atomic power: it looked to be a local issue of great importance.

It is fuzzy exactly how Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee(SEC) came into being in the Spring of 1974. Ecology Action(EA) probably was the initiator: the people came both from EA and Peace Center. Because it was neither fish or fowl, SE languished so I suggested they meet in the cold, dark, old Peace Center at 15th and G St., Modesto. What eventually brought hope was the Modesto Bee which ran a full page on the nuclear power in general and SMUD(Sacramento Municipal Utility District) in particular, the operator of Rancho Seco in the Acampo area. Most importantly, the Bee put face to the opposition, six separate photos: Dan Onorato, Mary Van Diepen, Lucy Van Diepen, Indira Clark, Dan Pollock, Sam Tyson. Legitimacy was a big lift and energy flowed.

Feb. 3, l975 - the Bee came out with the proposed East Stanislaus facility with Pacific Gas & Electric(PG&E), Modesto Irrigation District(MID) and Turlock Irrigation District(TID) as the owners. The land owners east of Waterford wanted no part of it and tried to block access to do seismic work and lost in court. Dan Pollock and I tried a class action suit and were denied because no damage could be proved at that stage.

Safe Energy was ready. A public forum had already been scheduled for late February at Roberts Ferry School. The panel included Kit Newton (PG&E) Matthew Fiscalini(MID Board), Haig Arakalian, County Board of Supervisors, Dan Pollock and me. The meeting went surprisingly well to a standing room only house. Money was always needed. The Eastsiders(An SE affiliate) arranged for an auction in May at Waterford Sportmans’s Club. Bill Wilson and Dan Pollock were the auctioneers. Linda Sawyer donated a couple pieces of her art work. At first people looked for bargains but by the end it was more just a money raiser. Prior to the auction a public meeting was arranged for late April with Dr. John Gofman, one time part of the hierarchy at the Livermore Rad. Lab. He lost it all with the publication of Poisoned Power , questioning the usefulness of nuclear power. Gofman’s forte was medical statistics; he had grave reservations about even exposure to low level radiation. The experts claimed there was a threshold below which it was not a medical problem.

The array for the meeting was Gofman in opposition and someone from General Electric, who did not show. The old MID auditorium was filled. Miles Sheldon(PG&E), tried to fill in but made a poor showing, being much younger. He just did not have the background, he lacked credibility. Miles was the public relations person for PG&E.

Roberts Ferry in February, John Gofman in April, Waterford Auction in May led to the Pancake Breakfast in June, the first weekend. The Burbank Community Center on the Westside was ideal by location and its community neutrality. Chief pancake turner for years was Dan Pollock, later son Sam Tyson filled that role. The Pancake Breakfast continued at that location into the 1990’s. It made some money - sold bread and bakery goods and plants, T shirts, buttons, literature as well as the featured pancakes. A main function became a time for people to sit and catch up with each other as there was adequate space to sit and chat.

With the success of the early June Pancake Breakfast, an established feature of Safe Energy, a Fall fund raiser seemed logical. The Harvest Supper fund raiser was started several years after the Breakfast and became equally successful. When there was a period when Peace/Life Center funding was not doing well, Safe Energy turned over the supper to the Peace/Life Center as its fund raiser.

Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee was an ad hoc group, not a non-profit for tax purposes and always a separate entity. There was considerable crossover in volunteers from the Peace/Life Center. The role of Safe Energy was to take on things which seemed out of bounds for a traditional Peace Center. For instance, Sam Love joy toppled a weather tower at Seabrook(nuclear power). He did destroy property, a no-no for many. Safe Energy sponsored his visit to Modesto rather than the Peace Center. Though not quite dead, Safe Energy has been quiet but not broke. Perhaps there will be some future need.

Before the Peace Center there was a Concerned Citizens group, which had a booth at the County Fair in August, handing out anti-draft material focused on Vietnam. In 1974 Safe Energy and Ecology Action had a joint booth at the County Fair; we learned that an outside location was of limited use. Safe Energy kept doing the County Fair until the mid 1980’s when the space was turned over to San Joaquin county group fighting the Super Conductor, Super Collider, truly a welfare project for Rad Lab and UC Berkeley professionals. As usual, the proponents of development included the Chambers of Commerce, local press, Unions, Schools and in this case liberal Democrats John Garamendi and Patrick Johnson. Local farmers were in opposition all along but it took some pressure to get the local Farm Bureau involved. It cost a lot of time and Safe Energy $500. for the Fair but over 10,000 acres of land was kept out of the hands of development. The State of California was saved hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies by losing out to Texas. In all, this ten years of activity Safe Energy more or less was alone locally. Ecology Action was passive, undecided. No one would have known there was a Sierra Club, Audubon Society, American Association of University Women(AAUW) or League of Women voters. In the case of the Super Conductor-Super Collider, the San Joaquin Peace and Justice Center opted out.

A model once created made it easier for Safe Energy to do its own booth at the County Fair in August, 1975. The people living on the land of the proposed East Stanislaus Nuclear facility offered to pay for a booth at the Sonora Fair in July. Turlock Fair in August was followed by San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton. People in Mariposa invited the booth there in September. Grace Cathedral (San Francisco) had a peace fair so once more the booth was loaded in the pickup one last time for 1975 and off to the big city. Folks from Peace Centers thought we were off base with nuclear power when they were still hassling cluster bombs and relics of the Vietnam War. Indira Clark made these various Fair trips with the setting up and tearing down the booth, physical labor it was.

Somewhere along here it seemed advisable to attend the weekly MID Board Meeting for which they refused to print an agenda. In the beginning Perry was the Bee reporter, accepted what he was handed out. Later he went to work for PG&E. Thorne Gray became the MID reporter, from then on questions were commonplace. It was soon obvious the MID board preferred a high technology fix, they wanted to be energy self-sufficient through nuclear power. Conservation did not play a large part in the thinking. Utilities in general thought more energy use was a prerequisite to growth and that the use would not be cut back as prices increased. They were wrong on both counts.

In late 1975 I began speaking all over, partly because Marie Seaman and Oakdale Association of University Women(AAUW) did a forum series with the usual proponents, General Electric, MID, etc. An October date sponsored by the Turlock AAUW with Miles Sheldon(PG&E) was set. On this occasion brain and voice initially refused to coordinate. Brain sent message, voice did not cooperate at first; this was the second such occurrence in 1975. Worn out no doubt.

In 1976 there was a ballot initiative proposed which would change the nuclear power world. The California legislature to counter this threat passed three laws and knocked the stuffing out of the initiative. In this campaign the local anti-nuclear power people opened an office with Bob Zellman and Tim Atkinson carrying the brunt. We had to raise money a second time for an advertisement in the Bee, the earlier money had gone to headquarters and they decided it was to be spent in urban areas where the votes counted. What a crock that was b because they were not going door-to-door, or bumper sticker route but were only going high media stuff-a typical Creative Initiative operation.

The whole business about the Nuclear Safeguard Initiative brought the Legislature to create a California Energy Commission. Don’t forget this was also the general period of OPEC and standing in line for gasoline. There was nothing like the Energy Commission in the U.S. at that time. Energy policy was based on these hearings in California. Came Amory Lovins on energy efficiency dug up by David Brower, Charles Kaminoff came and explained that large size energy units were less efficient than moderate sized ones of up to 500,000 kilowatts. Nuclear units were generally built to the size of around 1,000,000 kilowatts. Also came the energy people from New York to use the platform provided by the Energy Commission to get the ear of federal policy. Washington was way behind the citizenry and needed to catch up after being so long in the pockets of the nuclear industry.

Utilities could not accept a message of energy efficiencies because it sounded anti-nuclear though it applied equally to coal created energy.

Sacramento was added to the regular itinerary to attend Energy Commission hearings. Since it was established that a utility had to file a Notice of Intent(NOI) to build, I thought we should file a notice of disintent. It took Safe Energy three months to write and nit pick out a two legal page statement. I read it at the Energy Commission and it became part of the official record for the East Stanislaus Nuclear Facility. Indira Clark and Howard TenBrink read it litany style before the Board of Supervisors. Someone else read it before the City Council. Another action front was Wasco(Kern County) where Lucy Van Diepen spoke in opposition to this four unity facility proposed by Los Angeles interests. The Bakersfield area AAUW took this on and joined with farmers to defeat it by vote. We gave what support we could during this campaign.

Then there was Diablo Canyon(PGE), Pacific Gas and Electric had been trying to go nuclear for some time. Blocked at Bodega Bay by David Personen(Attorney) and others, PGE went south. In order to save Nipomo Dunes, the Sierra Club accepted Diablo Canyon north of Shell Beach. This site got caught in the changes of the 1970’s and took a very long time in construction. A letter came from the Santa Crux area suggesting I help block Diablo Canyon. At the time, a Mothers for Peace(San Luis Obispo) group was opposing Diablo Canyon but a wider based effort was needed. A new local group was started and became the base for the Abalone Alliance, a coalition of many anti nuclear groups. A civil disobedience action occurred at Diablo in 1977 with arrests. My "trespass" at Diablo Canyon earned a six month sentence plus a $500. fine, raised from 10 days because I refused to accept probation. My "arrest" in l978 was made on private property, cuffed, tossed in pickup bed, taken to Diablo plant site and officially arrested again. My designated "crime partner" in this venture, Peter Klotz-Chamberlin was lodged in the same cell. On release they took his wedding ring to pay the fine. In 1995 a collection agency came after us for the $500. Fred Moore settled in the cell next door some days later. There was one operating nuclear plant in Northern California nearby, Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s(SMUD), Ranch Seco. The anomaly here was that the Sacramento Peace Center had not done the Vietnam draft counseling. Another group did and later took on nuclear power as a campaign backed by some Sacramento State faculty. I was asked to testify in opposition to the proposed Rancho Seco #2 - all part of the general opposition to nuclear power there. Rancho Seco 2 never got off the drawing board. Rancho Seco #1 closed years ago - cost too much to operate. Instead, SMUD then made an effort to go to solar power.

During these years an opportunity was provided to do a TV show in Sacramento with Miles Sheldon and Sue Brown(?), both from PGE, I don’t know why she was there as she chose to defer to Miles to answer questions. Perhaps it was thought that a woman would blunt tough question but chivalry was certainly dead that evening. Miles was sincere; he quit later when PG&E talked of going to coal. What I learned over time was that all these utility experts had read the original manual but had not kept up with the daily news. Their rigid line did not adapt to what was happening in the real world as they stuck to the old industry line.

East Stanislaus Nuclear facility died quietly. The expected economies of scale were an illusion as Charles Kaminoff had shown. However, the MID still enamored of the nuclear fix, tried to get a piece of Palo Verde Nuclear being constructed in Arizona even though there were no MID transmission connections. After a time for publicity the MID agreed to a bond election to purchase from El Paso Electric part of Palo Verde (1982). Jim Knox took leave from EA and with Bob Elam and others campaigned against the bonds. MID lost in a not close election, thus closing the nuclear chapter. It was only about a ten year effort by many people as well as those already mentioned. Jim Higgs, Carol Mersmann, Michael Matherly, Vicki Bingham were actively involved. It was a lot of work just getting people to staff at the County Fair. Frank Muench was a regular there.

We did learn that opposing nuclear power was only part of energy complexity. So began another new education experience, energy alternatives: wind, wave, sun photo valtaic and conservation measures. Amory Lovins was the energy efficiency guru. Attempts continued to be made to involve local concerned people in working together, this time EA and Safe Energy. The Energy Research Group(ERG) explored the specifics of energy changes: solar houses in particular. Here a much different group of people surfaced-Kim Wilkins, Jean Enero, Gary Wheeler, Doug Beaman, Bill Wilson, Dave Dolan and Dennis Dahlin. There were solar home tours, course at Modesto Junior Collage.

Public awareness was encouraged by the Solar Faire(1975) and its Run for the Sun, organized by John Lucas and Mike Miller. Not everyone liked Bank of America at the Solar Faire even though they had a solar program. Dan Onorato organized the first Faire and Jim Higgs Faire two. Tom Hunter and others entertained with music, there were goodies and owners exhibits. The MID continued the Solar Faire for several years after Safe Energy gave it over. The Faires were a fun thing but great energy drainers.

One of our better features was Charles Milligan’s Sun Power T-shirt at Solar Faires, County Fairs and Pancake Breakfasts a standout feature in any crowd.

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from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

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