Just thank Paul Gunter the next time you fill up
by Kevin Sowyrda
Thursday Jun 12, 2008
You want to know who to send a Hallmark to in thanks for the present energy crisis, which may soon make the "malaise" and gas rationing of the Carter years seem like an economic stroll in the park? No problem - just address your envelope to one Paul Gunter, who in 1976 glued together a rag-tag group of misinformed radicals and dubbed them the Clam Shell Alliance.
All 1000 or so of the shellers succeeded in putting nuclear power on the back burner in New England, using propaganda, misinformation, fear mongering and naked media manipulation - to such a flawless and permanent affect that I’m thinking, in retrospect, that they must have infiltrated the ’70s via a time machine from the Bush White House. Or maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Dr. Who.
But before the Karl Roves of the world were anybodies, the Clam Shell Alliance invented the shady tactics of manipulating public opinion and they are long overdue the credit they so richly deserve for a modern day America that is completely dependent on polluting fossil fuels. It’s all so painfully ironic when one considers were it not for the propaganda, we could have had safe, clean and abundant nuclear energy and the more robust economy that would have been the fringe benefit.
The clam shellers reached their apogee in April of 1977 when, in full military fashion, they stormed the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, then under construction on New Hampshire’s Atlantic coastline. You would have thought they had taken the Bastille and their hyperbole was effective in indoctrinating an impressionable public that the expansion of nuclear power equaled Armageddon.
While the nuclear power industry in this part of the United States has yet to fully recover - Gunter’s army even succeeded in bankrupting the plant’s builder, Public Service of New Hampshire - Seabrook is cranking out more-than-ever needed electricity today, keeping the lights on for about 900,000 households, according to their web page. And Paul Gunter and his vocal minority were wrong regarding their doomsday predictions delivered via bullhorn in Eastern New Hampshire. According to the World Association of Nuclear Operators, Seabrook’s safety record is unblemished, and when I toured the facility I found the security at the plant to
be nothing less than overwhelming.
But Gunter and his ilk clearly succeeded in making their long term mark, which you can see at the gas station today. The public was scared, as it can so easily be frightened, and in the aftermath of the guerilla advertising tactics of groups like the Clam Shell Alliance, we all sat back on the petroleum cushion just like Gunter and his cabal wanted, perfectly content to damage the environment more than any China Syndrome could have.
Now, the Gunters of the world have disappeared. I’ve yet to see them giving commentary on Exxon Valdez or the Department of Energy statistic that in 1999 alone electric power plants puffed about two billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air, complimented by 19 million tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides - all the delightful ingredients for global warming.
And this is to say nothing of waste oils that dirty the oceans with more than 700 million gallons of oil each year.
Ah, yes, the virtues of keeping all those evil nuclear plants segregated in France.
And speaking of France, that’s where they’re belly laughing at us Americans: Nearly 80 percent of the French power grid emanates from third generation nuclear power facilities, leaving their petrol products much more free for automobiles. France has 59 nuclear reactors and consequently the cleanest air in Europe. What they don’t have is a lot of New Englanders having panic attacks because there will be no way to afford heating oil this winter, unless Joe Kennedy can quickly clone himself about 10,000 times before October.
Simply put, we’ve screwed ourselves royally. As per American tradition and protocol, the smallest minority with the biggest mouth set the nation’s agenda. Most lawmakers went into the fetal position when they saw the impact in the polling data. Your typical Joe Politician didn’t dare speak out to educate the public to the real facts, so the Paul Gunters of America discovered they had amassed power completely disproportionate to what should have been the reality of their shoddy research and inability to appreciate clean-energy technology.
And what is this new, clean technology commonly referred to as third generation nuclear power? As I’m still not the provost at M.I.T., my description will probably be less than perfect. But simply put, the new reactors are as different from those first built in the U.S. as a 2008 Toyota Prius is from Henry Ford’s original model T. They are more fuel efficient and vastly superior in safety.
If Governor Deval Patrick wants to put his name on the political map, and more importantly save us all from ourselves, he’ll begin an immediate public-private partnership to expand nuclear power in Massachusetts and debate - head on - the Paul Gunters of the world who will no doubt come out of retirement so as to keep us all misinformed. But I pray his years of fame are over. Given present fuel prices, the public may finally be willing to listen to the real facts about nuclear power and follow the lead of the French