At 8:30 a.m., Jane Swanson is packing her hybrid car with “green” cleaning products and driving to the home of a couple who bid on combined housecleaning services as a fund-raiser.
By 12:15 p.m., Jane is on her laptop with a list of concerns regarding the beginning of loading dry casks containing spent nuclear fuel at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
Sound ambitious? This is just a typical day in the life of a Mothers for Peace member.
Mothers for Peace (MFP), a non-profit organization formed in 1969 as an anti-Vietnam War group, has remained active in issues of peace, social justice and environmental safety for over 40 years.
Concerned with nuclear power, weapons and waste dangers on both local and global levels, MFP continues to challenge the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for lax enforcement of federal law regarding the protection of the casks storing nuclear wastes against potential terrorist attacks.
“There is a direct connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The waste products of nuclear power plants include materials that can be used to create nuclear weapons. We have serious concerns about the health and safety of both the local and the global community,” MFP member Swanson said.
“We see the problem, we have legal standing, and we’ve accumulated knowledge over four decades,” she said. “We feel it is our responsibility to use the legal channels available to us. Otherwise we’d be walking away from something that has horrendous implications.”
MFP took a position as a small local group in opposing the licensing of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant when PG&E began building in 1971. In 1973, MFP became legal interveners, partaking in government regulatory procedures mandatory for permission to run the plant through the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which has since been replaced by the NRC.
In hearings and meetings with the NRC and in appeals to the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States, MFP has fought against the AEC and NRC for violating it’s own regulations under federal law. In the case of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant just over the hill from Avila Beach, the NRC has allowed two nuclear reactors, licensed in 1985 and 1986, along with the storage of radioactive wastes, to exist next to two earthquake faults.
From 1973 to 1985, MFP tried blocking the plant from being licensed. According to their own rules, Swanson said, the NRC may not allow a plant to be built next to an active earthquake fault. Swanson said the plant was licensed by the NRC anyway, with the reasoning that PG&E had invested many millions of dollars in the plant before the Hosgri earthquake fault, located about 3.5 miles from the plant, was documented by geologists working for the oil industry.
“That’s what got us so angry and motivated. The federal government put the financial interests of giant utilities ahead of public health and safety,” Swanson said.
“Nuclear waste is the most toxic manmade substance on earth. A cocktail of many radioactive elements, it is lethal 250,000 years, or 7,000 generations. If dispersed into the air by fire, radioactive particles would be released, making thousands of square miles of land uninhabitable for decades.”
In June of 2006, MFP won a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case which required the NRC to do an environmental study to consider the impact of attack on the dry cask storage at Diablo Canyon.
On July 1, 2008, MFP accused the NRC of failing to consider serious environmental consequences that could result from a terrorist attack.
Nuclear facilities, Swanson said, produce radioactive waste materials, which the Homeland Security Administration and the NRC agree are targets of terrorists.
MFP member Linda Seeley said that it is very important to spread the consciousness about nuclear power and its connection with nuclear weapons.
“San Luis Obispo is such a beautiful, wonderful place, and yet here we are with this extremely volatile and poisonous material very close to us. It’s more comfortable to pretend its not there, but you can’t,” she said. “We are all important in that network that keep accidents with radiation from killing us and the earth.”
All it would take, Swanson said, are terrorists, using either shoulder-fired missiles or planes, launching a missile with an explosive charge in its tip into a spent fuel pool to blow out some coolant and start a fire in the spent fuel.
“We’re trying to force the NRC to follow federal law and make PG&E install dry casks as safely as possible, scattered about instead of clustered and sheltered under earth rather than exposed to attack from the air,” she said.
Seeley said that every nuclear power plant is also a nuclear waste dump.
“It’s like never taking your trash out and having to keep it in your kitchen for 35 years because there’s nowhere for it to go. Nuclear waste is exceptional because it’s lethal,” she said.
“If you can’t take care of your waste, you can’t make it. Period. We have to do what’s socially and environmentally responsible today because we don’t have any more choices. We’re all connected and dependent on each other.”
MFP member Liz Apfelberg said that the organization believes in obtaining energy through renewable energy resources. Small, localized wind farms generating wind power, she said, is an alternative source. Apfelberg said that there is no reason why every factory and building in California does not have solar panels.
“We believe that we can be nuclear and carbon free and energy independent if we put our minds to it and force government regulators to listen to the people for a change,” she said.
Even though legal efforts by MFP targeted at the NRC have only regarded the nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo, Swanson said MFP have set precedents that have helped additional communities.
“We’re trying to force the NRC to do its job better. There are 104 nuclear power plants operating in the United States. When we win in a court case it changes policies for the other 103 plants as well,” she said. “I am quite sure Diablo Canyon is run better than it would have been without MFP on the scene.”
Apfelberg said that MFP believe very strongly in what they pursue.
“Just as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be following the regulations that they are supposed to in order to protect us,” she said. “The NRC should.”
Apfelberg said that everyone is welcome to join MFP, no matter how much they are able to contribute.
“We believe that we’re doing this for a better world for our children and grandchildren,” she said.
MFP member and retired Cal Poly psychology professor Elaine Holder said that one of the most unique aspects of MFP is the emotional component within the organization.
“When I taught a course called ‘behavior in organizations,’ I realized MFP violate all of the rules about the way an organization should work. This small, volunteer group is like a family; members are united, really believe in what they’re fighting for and they respect each other enormously,” she said.
Swanson said MFP doesn’t exist for glory or money, but only in the hopes to make the world a better and safer place.
“I feel like we’re doing the right thing in fulfilling our responsibility to future generations, doing all that we can to make sure that nuclear facilities and nuclear waste are safeguarded as well as humanly possible for the sake of the future of mankind,” Swanson said.
Swanson said that MFP is also defending the rights of citizens of the United States to participate in federal decision making and the choices that will affect them.
“It’s critical for young people to get involved in this anti-nuclear movement, it’s essential; the mothers are an aging group” Seeley said.
Every four to five years, Swanson said, MFP aims to raise $100,000, the cost of taking a giant utility to court with attorneys. MFP sends letters to supporters and occasionally applies for grants as well as requesting financial contributions. They plan to raise about $100,000 in order to mount to the current court challenge and seek communication, activity and support from student groups on campus.
Fundraising was successful at MFP’s 40th Anniversary party at Odd Fellows Hall in San Luis Obispo on the evening of April 25. Curran, two county supervisors, and approximately 150 supporters attended. The organization auctioned off donated items and services.
“It was a fun party. We raised some money, generated a lot of good will and connected with people, which we’re hoping will help us in the future,” Swanson said.
MFP member Nancy Norwood said that having values in common goes a long way towards establishing friendships within the organization. No matter what people go through, she said, there is never any feeling of guilt for not being active.
“I am constantly amazed and thankful to be in a group with such honorable and bright women. A long-term group that works together harmoniously is a wonderful find,” she said.
MFP encourages the public to participate in supporting attempts to assure that the NRC, which, despite a pending lawsuit, has approved PG&E to remove spent fuel from nearly overflowing pools and load dry casks at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant on June 1, is done as safely as possible.