Talk for "Living in the Shadow" tour in N. Vermont
September 20th and 21st, 2006
by Hattie Nestel
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  I was born January 25, 1939, the exact day that Dr. John R. Dunning, the physicist, first split the atom at Columbia University and knew that it was possible to release atomic energy.

  As a child in a Jewish family, I spent my first 6 years in the backdrop of World War 2. My father worked in a defense plant at night and I remember the sirens and black shades drawn to practice air raid drills in case of an attack. I also remember going to the movies with my parents and watching newsreels of the war and being afraid of Germans. My parents clandestinely gave money to the Jewish resistance, and Jewish organizations working on saving Jews from the Holocaust. As I matured my mother gave me a book written in 1946 about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and it made a very deep impression upon me. My adult reading was full of Holocaust studies. I continually asked myself, "How could this have happened?'

  Although I opposed the Vietnam War, when it ended, my political life ended. It wasn't until the early 80's that I became reinvolved, focusing on nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear winter.

  My activism became far more radical than during the 60's. I met and was greatly influenced by Philip Berrigan, Wally Nelson and Buddhist monks and nuns based in Leverett, Ma. With Phil I studied the bible and engaged in many civil disobedience actions directed at opposing nuclear weapons. Under Wally's influence I became-and still am- a war tax refuser. I began visiting the Leverett Peace Pagoda and joined in the chanting of Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo as a call for world peace. I decided to move there and lived there for 12 years. During that time I went on many pilgrimages, nationally and internationally focusing on world peace including the Gandhian Salt march last year in India.

  I lived in Putney and then Brattleboro, Vermont, from 1978 til 1986, about 6 miles from Vermont Yankee, but knew little about nuclear power. Intuitively, I opposed it, but took little action. Nuclear power seemed less important than nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war.

  It wasn't until the last two years that I began to take notice of the revival of the nuclear power industry and felt called to oppose it. I got on board with Citizens Awareness Network and began doing major research trying to sort it all out. I read Harvey Wasserman's history "Killing Our Own", published in 1982 and "No Immediate Danger" by Rosalie Bertell about the effects of both high and low level radiation published in 1985. I continued with several books about the Chernobyl disaster of 1985. Since the Bush initiative is clearly to revitalize the nuclear industry, I felt that I needed to get current. I found extensive, comprehensive, well documented research that informed me about the nuclear initiative being undertaken by the Bush agenda.

  What I now call my bible is "Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change" by Brice Smith, published May 2006 by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. In addition, I have read "Nuclear Power; Myth and Reality, The Risks and Prospects of Nuclear Power" published 2006 by the Heinrich Boell Foundation and now the newest 2006 book, "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer" by Helen Caldicott. All these books contribute to a broad and deep understanding of nuclear power and the politics driving the industry.

  After reading the current literature, including up-to-date websites, I was truly alarmed. The health dangers posed by radioactive releases inherent in nuclear power, its technological link to nuclear weapons, the exorbitant costs funded by taxpayer dollars and the 12,000 human generations that will have to guard the radioactive waste are illogical, irresponsible and should never have been given a green light by scientists or governmental officials. The same question I pondered about the holocaust plagues me, "How could this be happening?'

  My study of Gandhi led me to announce my intention to fast during the three days surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. With members of Citizens Awareness Network and monks from the Leverett Peace Pagoda, we set up an altar at Wells Fountain on the end of Main St. in Brattleboro and engaged in a three-day prayer/fast from April 25 through April 27th.

  Going back in history to the development of nuclear weapons, inevitably leads to the political decision to use taxpayer money to develop commercial reactors for civilian electricity. Trying to cast off the negativity surrounding nuclear bombs used against Japanese civilians, the "peaceful atom, too cheap to meter" was announced by President Eisenhower in 1953.

  To create more public awareness of this history and connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, Citizens Awareness Network and the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order initiated a walk from August 6th, Hiroshima Day til August 9th, Nagasaki Day. With Vermont Peace and Justice groups we walked the streets of Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington for 4 days. Local communities welcomed us with pot luck dinners and conversations about how to continue the work that will that will lead to shutting down Vermont Yankee and using our taxpayer dollars and scientific minds to create safe, affordable and sustainable energy.

  During September in Massachusetts the gubernatorial primary campaigns created forums for candidates to tell voters what their positions were on issues they considered important. However not one of the candidates brought up the issue of nuclear power, (we are surrounded by three nuclear power plants although only one is actually within the state boundaries). I contacted the three Democratic candidates and discovered none had a position on nuclear power. I sent out emails and letters to the editors asking people to lobby the candidates to tell us what their position were on nuclear power. Few people agreed that nuclear power should be a campaign issue. One candidate who seemed to mobilize the peace community's support had developed a multi-paged environmental position paper. In this lengthy document he managed to totally avoid using the words "nuclear power".

  While most citizens are poorly informed about the dangers of nuclear power, the government is spending billions developing strategies that will rally popular support for its vast nuclear power renaissance. Following the governments lead, the New York Times Magazine, July 16, 2006, ran a twelve page article entitled, "The Nuclear Option; Nuclear power could help global warming. It could lessen our dependence on air-polluting fossil fuels. but will it ever be…not scary?" Throughout the NYT article there are glaring omissions, distortions and downplaying of the potential catastrophic dangers of nuclear power. Completely missing are the devastating health problems caused by daily radioactive emissions from every one of the 103 nuclear power plants in the U.S. the lack of a permanent repository for the 50,000 tons of waste that is now stored on-site and the safe, sustainable options that can replace nuclear power.

  Just as the last nuclear power plants were to close due to economic failures, accidents or license termination, the government and the nuclear industry found an excellent advertising spin to create a nuclear renaissance. As James Riccio, the nuclear policy analyst at Greenpeace aptly stated, "By using global warming, the nuclear industry is trying to find some fear greater than the nuclear fear to be their selling point".

  This selling point is being promoted through newspaper articles, magazines and radio programs. "Living on Earth", an environmental nationally broadcast NPR radio program is a good example. September 1st their program spent about 20 minutes interviewing people about nuclear power and talking about how nuclear power doesn't emit CO2. However, nowhere was the word radioactive uttered nor the lack of safe storage for the next 500,000 years required by the industries radioactive waste. The Al Gore movie, "An Inconvenient Truth", has lifted the veil from the secrecy and denial of global warming and set the stage for the public's acceptance of nuclear power.

  All nuclear plants originally received operating licenses for forty years or less. Because of over-expenditures, technological accidents and failures, along with massive public opposition, the nuclear industry ground to a halt in the nineteen-seventies. The last nuclear plant that was approved by the NRC was in 1978 and most, with 40 year licenses were due to shut down permanently. However, instead of closing down old plants, encouraged by the Bush administration the nuclear for-profit corporations are being granted dangerous "uprates" and license extensions.

  These old, embrittled and substandard facilities create additional spent fuel and highly radioactive waste that must be stored on-site since there is no authorized repository. The profit margins at old plants are huge and the industry and their stockholders are happily going to the banks with bulging pockets.

  Proponents of nuclear power do not mention the dangers of radioactive releases, the $13 billion of taxpayer subsidies necessary to jumpstart a new era nuclear industry or the fact that reactor sites will become vulnerable radioactive dumps for the foreseeable future. The critical links between nuclear power production and nuclear weapon production are rarely mentioned. As nuclear power receives billions in incentives, energy efficiencies and sustainable technologies are undervalued and under funded. The public is given little information that allows it to make an informed decision regarding its energy source.

  When the public understands the true dangers and costs of nuclear power, the risks of accidents and further nuclear weapons proliferation, I feel sure there will be overwhelming support for the clean, safe, sustainable energy choices already in place.

  The one thing that can knock the sails out of the nuclear resurgence being promoted by the government's huge monetary incentives and dangerously reduced safety standards is an informed opposition.

  We can stop the nuclear industry, but we need to put our heads and our bodies on the line to do it.

  Thank you, Hattie Nestel


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