Nuclear Power: Dictator of our Political Future

by Lorna Salzman

U. S. energy policy is being made backwards. Instead of starting a national dialogue on what values and priorities we want to stress in American society and matching our energy policies to them, we are instead choosing energy sources which by their costly, complex, centralized, hazardous nature, will in effect dictate our political and social future.

In the case of nuclear power, we are already being forced to accept restrictions on our personal freedoms as the price for safeguards against nuclear terrorism and sabotage. These restrictions range from utility guards with submachine guns under instructions to shoot to kill, to sanctioned surveillance of dissident citizen groups, and are an open admission by our government that nuclear proliferation (of both commercial and military nuclear facilities) represents the single greatest threat to national security. The question then arises as to whether these restrictions will bring on a political backlash that could stimulate the political terrorism they are designed to preclude.

Big Brother

Some of the actions already taken by the Federal government and the private nuclear utilities (the latter accompanied by its promotional arm, the Atomic Industrial Forum and the public relations firm of Charles B. Yulish Associates in New York City), should give citizens cause for alarm. Over recent years the above conglomerate has been assembling dossiers on anti-nuclear individuals and organizations. Groups being surveyed include Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Ralph Nader's public interest groups, Environmental Action, Environmental Policy Center, Another Mother for Peace, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.Some utilities such as Potomac Electric Power Co. have files on environmental letter-writers in general.

Surveillance of individuals continues at a high pitch, with the aid of Federal agencies such as the FBI. Several years ago the Texas State Police, on the instigation of the FBI, assembled a dossier on Continental Airlines Pilot Robert Pomeroy because he was a member of Citizens Association for Sound Energy, a group opposing a proposed nuclear power plant near Dallas. In this particular case the airline, who had been notified by the police of Pomeroy's activities, told Pomeroy of the investigation and the plot was exposed. More recently, it was revealed that Jacqueline Srouji, an FBI informant, had infiltrated the reporting staff of the Nashville Tennessean in order to keep tabs on an editor and a reporter who had written articles critical of nuclear power. Sronji's FBI connections came out in Congressional hearings when it was learned that she had access to thousands of pages of top-secret FBI files on nuclear power which clearly only an authorized FBI agent could have possessed or inspected. Srouji later received threats from the FBI not to reveal more information and was recently quoted in a Rolling Stone article as saying that she believed plutonium worker Karen Silkwood had been murdered because she had discovered a plot to smuggle plutonium out of the Kerr-McGee plant in Oklahoma.

Several government-sponsored studies pinpoint the potential for nuclear terrorism and sabotage as the weakest link in the nuclear fuel cycle. In response to this, proposals have been made to institute wiretapping, surveillance, and infiltration of citizen groups to detect possible plots against nuclear facilities—neglecting the fact that nuclear critics are leading the battle to prevent nuclear violence, and that government-aided nuclear proliferation will increase the potential for violence.

Both the Rosenbaum Special Safeguards study and the Mitre Corp. report "The Threat to Licensed Nuclear Facilities" contain recommendations for citizen surveillance, personal searches, psychological studies, and investigation of people moving into neighborhoods near nuclear facilities with surveillance done in conjunction with the FBI, CIA, and the NSA. Both reports recommend creation of a federal nuclear security force.

Threat to Democracy

In the area of legislation, inroads are being made already into the democratic process. The State of Virginia considered a bill in 1975 (proposed by the Virginia Electric Power Co.) to permit VEPCO to set up its own police force with the power to arrest anyone anywhere in the state and obtain confidential records on citizens. Representative Melvin Price of Illinois, co-sponsor of the infamous Price-Anderson Act (which exempts utilities from liability over a certain amount in the event of a nuclear accident) will re-introduce Federal legislation giving the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) the power to control the siting of nuclear power plants anywhere in the country. Thus, all state and local hearings and decisions on nuclear safety, economics, and siting would be eliminated. More recently, a Mitre Corporation sponsored report, "Public Participation in Energy Related Decision Making", responding to Dr. Albert Einstein's famous remark on the need to have decisions made by voices from the village square, suggested re-defining that village voice, an ominous threat to our basic Constitutional right to self-government.

All of this adds up to the indisputable fact that nuclear power as an energy source, as an economic institution, as a political bellwether, and as an environmental and health hazard, may already be condemning democracy to extinction, for it represents the ultimate concentration of political and economic power that in turn may control our personal lives, freedoms, and social fabric. For these reasons citizens must question nuclear power not only on technical grounds but must examine the stresses that reliance on this uniquely dangerous energy source will create. The inescapable conclusion is that nuclear power is inherently incompatible with a democratic society.

Lorna Salzman is the Mid-Atlantic Representative, Friends of the Earth, writer and lecturer. She is a board member of the Safe Energy Coalition of New York State and is presently organizing the Citizens' Project on Radioactive Waste (NY State).

Source: Syracuse Peace Council Newsletter, April 1977.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.