Meet local anti-nuclear leaders
by Kathryn Stewart MacDonald
Niami Hanson is a concerned member
and motivating force behind Mockingbird Alliance, a local anti-nuclear
group. Mockingbird is affiliated with The
Lone Star, Alliance, a Texas umbrella
organization for state-wide anti-nuclear
"For 30 years the public has been told
nuclear power was clean, safe, and inexpensive. In reality, it is just the opposite.
People became aware of the truth about
nuclear energy after the Three-Mile Island
accident," Hanson explained.
"The strategy of Mockingbird is basi-
cally the same as other anti-nuclear
groups. Teaching is the most important
activity. Most people don't understand
how we got nuclear energy, what the alternatives are, or the powers behind it,"
said Hanson. "The powers are corporate
and military government."
Hanson and a handful of other environmentally conscious citizens formed
Mockingbird in June 1978. The consciousness-raising group has demonstrated
their concern through a number of projects.
Most recently, Mockingbird sponsored
an anti-nuclear rally at Hermann Park on
May 6 to coincide with the national march
on Washington proclaiming "No More
Mockingbird also initiated a demonstration at the Bay City power plant and
plans a state-wide rally at the construction
site on June 2.
On August 6, 1978, the group commemorated the 30th anniversary of the
bombings of Hiroshima, Japan."The
devastatisng effects of the bomb still
linger in Hiroshima," said Hanson.
"Cancer caused by radiation exposure
and birth defects are constant reminders
of the holocaust."
On October 29, 1978, a candlelight
vigil was held in memory of Karen Silkwood.
Hanson says the activities of Mockingbird are straight forward and to the point.
The goals are to halt construction of all
atomic power plants and facilities. Mockingbird demands the phasing out of all
nuclear power plants currently operating.
They also support the promotion of conservation of energy and the rapid implementation of solar and other renewable,
decentralized energy sources.
Although these are the goals of Mockingbird, Hanson has her own personal and
moral beliefs concerning nuclear energy.
"In my opinion, those people who
participate in covering up nuclear acci
dents and the nuclear industry's activities are personally and morally
responsible. I feel they are criminals,"
She referred to the Three-Mile-Is-
land incident at Harrisburg and the
government's total lack of response to
recommendations that pregnant women
continued from the pre-
sitting day after day and listening to Bill
Basically, Kerr-McGee's position over
the years has been that Silkwood contaminated her apartment by herself and
either fell asleep at the wheel, due to an
overdose of sleeping pills or killed herself
because she did not have the proper documents to present to the Times reporter.
They appear to have made the trial a
series of personal attacks against Silkwood,
saying that she was not liked by the other
workers, that they laughed at her, that
she was promiscuous and smoked marijuana.
Niami Hanson from Houston met a coworker of Silkwood's at a nuclear rally
she attended recently and recalled her
conversation with him. "At one time he
said he was so proud to work for the
nuclear industry but now he saw it was all
just lies and terror. He said he had never
met anyone like Karen. She begged him
to stay on and fight Kerr-McGee, but he
refused. He said he would never again go
near or work for a nuclear plant."
The Silkwood team is taking two basic
positions and the results of these positions
will, they believe, have far-reaching effects on the nuclear industry.
According to Kohn, they are basing
everything on a doctrine called strict liability. This means that if a company is
dealing with ultra-hazardous material,
they are responsible for all its effects.
Spence has pointed out that if you have a
lion in your backyard, you are responsible whether it gets out or not.
Kerr-McGee's position is that it should
not be held to that standard. They refuse
to admit that the material they were handling was ultra-hazardous. Further, they
say that the plant, which has been closed
since 1975, was run safely.
But, Dr. Karl Morgan, a health and
physics expert, who testified in 1976
before a subcommittee of the House
Small Business Committee said that he
had "never known of an operation in this
industry so poorly operated from the
standpoint of radiation protection" than
the Cimarron plant.
Spence has been allowed to make a
case on the dangers of plutonium. According to Kohn, Kerr-McGee says that
the Silkwood team has to prove that they
had something to do with the actual contamination. Under the law, the only way
to avoid being strictly liable is if Karen
contaminated herself, which is exactly
what Kerr-McGee lawyers are trying to
Kerr-McGee would also like to say that
the suit is more of a workman's compensation case. But, according to Kohn, the
judge has indicated that he believes in the
law of strict liability.
The other important issue, Danny
Sheehan says, is that Karen Silkwood
died nine days after she was contaminated, so there was not enough time to
determine if she had developed cancer.
The critical question is, was she injured at
the time of contamination or 20 years
later when she would have developed
Dr. John Gofman, scientist and director
of the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility, says that Silkwood was "married
to lung cancer, it was an inevitable process." If the jury agrees, Silkwood would
be the first recognized victim of radiation.
Sheehan adds, "If the case reaches the
Supreme Court, radiation could be officially classed as a 'public health hazard'."
"This is a very important point," Diana
Kohn says, "and has never been addressed
before. It will clear up the whole issue of
the Navajo uranium miners. Cancer has
killed 18 out of 100 of the miners in Kerr-
McGee's uranium mine near Shiprock,
New Mexico and 21 others are feared dying. But, so far, Kerr-McGee officials have
refused to accept responsibility."
Several other facts have been revealed
during the trial. One of them caused
Spence to demand that the Silkwood
claim be increased from $11.5 million to
$70 million. This was due to testimony
made by Al Valentine, the man in charge
of the development of the plant's health
Valentine denied that he minimized
cancer risks to nuclear plant workers
when he wrote, "Radiation is safe." oi*
page 1 of the manual. He also refused to
accept that there is a direct link between
plutonium and cancer.
"It showed the worst corporate misrepresentation I've ever seen," said Spence.
"It didn't anger me, it outraged me."
In another dramatic moment, a former
plant supervisor testified that 40 pounds
of plutonium was missing from the plant
during that period and Karen, he said,
knew about it.
Plutonium is the key ingredient in nuclear bombs and raises the specter of a
black market in plutonium. Kerr-McGee
officials say that a much smaller amount
of plutonium disappeared. They also contend that it can be located as residue in
the plant's pipes.
To further add to Kerr-McGee's problems, Anthony Mazzochi, vice-president
of the OCAW, testified that if there were
faulty fuel rods produced, as Silkwood alleged, it could cause the reactor meltdown
known as "The China Syndrome" and endanger millions of people. If both the
smuggling charges and the defective fuel
rods are proved true, the company could
be charged with criminal as well as other
In fact, according to Diana Kohn, the
Fast Flux Nuclear Reactor in Hanford,
Washington, which was supplied with the
fuel rods, is scheduled to go on line in
August. She says there is a big move in
the state to prevent its opening, until the
rods can be completely checked.
Danny Sheehan says that the Silkwood
case is important for a number of reasons.
He says that if the Silkwood team can
win on the strict liability point then all
nuclear facilities can be held to much
"The whole history of the nuclear
movement shows that the government has
coddled the industry. The government
actually had to coax people to build the
first nuclear power plant," Diana Kohn
If the Silkwood lawyers win on the
strict liability point, it will allow contaminated residents near the Rocky Flats
plant in Colorado and the Three-Mile Nuclear facility in Harrisburg to claim damages, Sheehan says.
"So far, at the Three Mile Island facility," Sheehan points out, "the authorities