Byron Nuclear Power Station: State Power and Grassroots Resistance

The following is a research paper I submitted in my graduate history program. While I doubt I’ll ever come back to the subject, I thought the paper was useful in two respects. First, we should have no delusions that nuclear power was a result of free market economics. The technology, commercialization, and construction of nuclear power plants was enabled by state action. Second, grassroots resistance is nice in theory but needs to win popular support when opposing big business and government policy. In retrospect, I think I should have edited the paper and focused on larger themes. As an historian-in-training, I think my concern for showing evidence came at the cost of brevity and style. 


A brilliant future won’t happen by itself. People will have to make it happen. Working together, we can have the best utility system in the world, provide reliable energy at a very competitive price, remain in a strong position for a lot of years to come, and continue to be the proud successors of previous generations of Edison employees who have entrusted such a rich legacy to us.[1]

James J. O’Connor, Chairman and CEO, Commonwealth Edison

Harrisburg and then Chernobyl /Make contamination global /But they’re safer than before /Let’s go out and build some more /Why? /Because we’re stupid![2]

Because You’re Stupid, Bright Morning Star

Every country faces the challenge of optimizing its energy policy, a multifaceted endeavor involving the demand for energy, productive capacity, natural resources, financial costs, environmental impact, and geopolitics. Nuclear energy could be just another aspect of energy policy, but the two quotations that begin this post illustrate the deep ideological debate that comes with nuclear power. A culture clash between a utility CEO and a progressive rock band is unsurprising, but the quotations also reveal ideological bents: the staid, Pollyannish corporate citizen of Cold War America versus the disruptive, idealistic humanist demanding a better way. Discovered in past centuries, the historical origins of other sources of energy (water, wind, coal, and oil) were sui generis, following a spontaneous ordering to spread across societies with no ties to centralized state power (or, at least, minimal ties). Nuclear energy, in contrast, was a product of the liberal democratic state, a creature of energy policy from the postwar United States. The nuclear industry’s origins fuse it with an inextricable ideological component. Consequently, debates about nuclear energy are about more than energy, the environment, or public health risks.

Part I of this post discusses the origins of commercial nuclear energy. Seventy years ago, the concept of nuclear energy–fission reactions used to generate electricity–offered energy abundance at a seemingly low cost. However, at the end of the Second World War nuclear energy was only theoretical—an emerging technology based on the assumption uranium fission reactions could be reliably controlled. Nevertheless, the United States government sponsored the development of nuclear energy through a public-private partnership among federal agencies, industrial manufacturers, and utility corporations. The rushed effort to commercialize nuclear energy assumed favorable outcomes: financial feasibility, tolerable operating risks, and acceptable environmental consequences. Given the perpetual goals of spurring economic growth and improving strategic positioning during the Cold War, the US government’s managerial, technocratic approach was to partner with large corporations to build a commercial nuclear energy industry.

One of those corporations was the Commonwealth Edison Company, a public utility based in Illinois. The company was a pioneer in commercializing nuclear energy, investing heavily in building nuclear plants in Illinois from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. In the early 1970s Commonwealth Edison began developing a nuclear power plant in rural Byron, Illinois. The Byron Nuclear Generating Station (the Byron Station) was designed to operate two pressurized water reactors built by Westinghouse Electric Corporation (an industrial manufacturer specializing in complex engineering projects and another corporate nuclear pioneer). Commonwealth Edison staked its future on nuclear plants like Byron Station. In this respect, Commonwealth Edison was the US government’s partner carrying out nuclear energy policy. Part II of this post discusses the direct connection between the Byron Station, Commonwealth Edison, and the accommodating managerial, technocratic state policies enabling the commercial nuclear energy industry.

As nuclear plants sprung up across the country, groups of citizens questioned their immediate safety and the long-term environmental implications of creating radioactive waste lasting thousands of years. Growing out of the environmental and peace movements, by the 1970s “No Nukes” activists operated a widespread movement against nuclear power and national energy policies. Local grassroots activists eventually reacted to the Byron Station, part of a wave of anti-nuclear protest in the United States. The DeKalb Area Alliance for Responsible Energy (DAARE) and the Sinnissippi Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) were progressive activist groups opposed to nuclear energy.[3] These groups were closely allied in opposition to the Byron Station, making Commonwealth Edison their bête noire. Part III of this post explores the history of DAARE and SAFE, readily locating them within the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s. As the obverse of nuclear energy and counterpart to Commonwealth Edison, this post argues DAARE and SAFE were reactions to the pro-nuclear policies of the US government. The history of these groups’ opposition efforts against the Byron Station reveals a broader ideological agenda beyond environmental activism. The methods and messages employed by DAARE and SAFE demonstrate a broader program of opposition to the managerial, technocratic state policies that both spawned and continued to nurture the nuclear energy industry.

Like the proxy wars waged during the Cold War, the contest over Byron Station was fought on behalf of two competing ideologies. Commonwealth Edison and the NRC represented the managerial, technocratic state that enabled nuclear energy in service of US economic growth and Cold War competition. Going into the 1970s, US energy policy emphasized access low-cost energy as an essential macroeconomic input and reorganized industry oversight under the technocratic apparatus of NRC regulators. Likewise, DAARE and SAFE represented an American-progressive worldview of the antinuclear movement and a left-wing ideology supporting renewable energy, protecting public health, eliminating corporate influence in government, opposing war and nuclear weapons, and protecting the environment. Ultimately, DAARE and SAFE engaged in a quixotic struggle: the Byron Station went online in 1985. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1980s the grassroots activists saw a favorable outcome. Nuclear plant development nationally slowed to a handful of new units in the 1990s. Capital expenses for building nuclear plants proved too unpredictable while prices oil and coal fell in the 1980s, making oil- and coal-powered electrical plants better options for utilities. Finally, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 shifted US public opinion against nuclear energy and increased the likelihood of local opposition to nuclear power plants.

Part I. The Managerial, Technocratic State: Commercializing Nuclear Energy

 Byron Station was a result of decades of federal and state policies facilitating the development of commercial nuclear energy. Despite the expense and challenges of developing nuclear power, the US remained committed to commercializing nuclear power from the 1950s through the late 1980s. Political leaders and federal agencies provided an accommodating policy framework that would play a central role in building commercial nuclear power. Large corporations worked closely with the US government to develop nuclear technology. Among those corporations was Commonwealth Edison, an Illinois-based public utility that owned and operated coal-powered and oil-powered electrical plants but opted to make huge investments in emerging nuclear technology.[4] Nuclear technology and the managerial, technocratic state were born together, and the nuclear power industry that birthed Commonwealth Edison’s Byron Station would not exist but for the extension of state capacity.

Building the nuclear energy industry involved government coordination of corporate manufacturers and utilities as well as scientists and engineers in the public and private sectors. The Atomic Energy Commission[5] (AEC) and other federal agencies offered an accommodating regulatory environment and subsidized industry initiatives both directly (with outright financial grants, lucrative contracts, and tax incentives) and indirectly (by sharing research and technical expertise). This political-economic approach stood in contrast to the laissez-faire one that characterized the US prior to the Great Depression, putting bureaucrats and politicians in the roles of facilitators and partners to industry. Rather than outright regulation that stands in the way of industry, the managerial, technocratic state can also be considered a kind of capitalist franchising arrangement where private firms operate within an approved legal and economic framework. Sabeel Rahman writes:

[This] ‘managerial’ view of [US] political economy is characterized by two presumptions: first, that the purposes of state action are to optimize the functioning of an otherwise desirable and efficient free market; and second, that these purposes should be achieved through the use of expert, technocratic regulators operating apart from the ordinary ebbs and flows of democratic politics.

By “technocratic” Rahman describes “administrators and regulators that would realize the public interest through a combination of public-minded expertise and presidential oversight” stemming from the New Deal. Nuclear power was not the only industry bolstered by the managerial, technocratic state. Industries relating to national defense tended to be a nexus for public-private development during the Cold War. As Fred Block explains, “the Pentagon worked in close cooperation with other national security agencies such as the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), and as a consequence, government funding and infrastructure played a key role in such technologies as computers, jet planes, civilian nuclear energy, lasers, and ultimately, biotechnology.”[6] Finally, the managerial, technocratic state can also be characterized by the “revolving door” of professionals going between industry and government.

Given its origins, national defense was the key consideration in commercializing nuclear energy. In discussing the history of nuclear energy, it is important to remember the world’s introduction to nuclear technology was the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Images from Hiroshima became emblems of nuclear energy, and at the same time emblems of modern warfare…and of death itself” writes Spencer R. Weart in his book The Rise of Nuclear Fear. The first challenge to nuclear energy was attempting to distance it from nuclear (or “atomic”) weapons; nevertheless, people have continued to associate nuclear reactors with nuclear bombs.[7]

Although nuclear fission technology enabling electrical generation did not arrive until the mid-1950s, bureaucrats and politicians were quick to recognize the economic and geopolitical benefits offered by nuclear energy. Historian James W. Feldman refers to this as “the nuclear consensus” wherein the US government promoted all forms of nuclear technology: nuclear weapons to further US grand strategy and confront the Soviet Union, nuclear energy to fuel the US economy with “cheap energy that seemed to put affluence within the reach of all Americans”.[8] US nuclear policies were intertwined with foreign policy. President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program was an extension of domestic nuclear policy (promoting commercialized nuclear energy) as a tool to win allies in Cold War competition. As promoted, Atoms for Peace promised developing nations access to cheap, plentiful energy, as well as emerging applications of nuclear technology in the medical, agricultural, and industrial fields. On its surface, Atoms for Peace is consistent with liberal democratic notions of linear scientific progress as a signifier of societal good—while also serving as a boon to US economic growth as commercial energy applications were exported to foreign markets.[9]Lewis L. Strauss, chair of the AEC under President Eisenhower and enthusiastic supporter of nuclear energy, described the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (the enabling legislation that expanded state support for commercial nuclear energy) as having “two great aims—to make international cooperation possible, and to enable private enterprise to develop the atom for peaceful purposes.”[10] Moreover, in contrast to other countries trying to build nuclear plants, the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 meant that the US would largely outsource nuclear power to private industry, leaving the development, ownership, and operation of power plants to private owners, managers, and financiers.

Leading up to Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Commonwealth Edison had joined with other large US corporations (among them General Electric, Westinghouse, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Bechtel, and Pacific Gas and Electric) to explore the commercialization of nuclear power with the AEC. Commonwealth Edison contributed scientists and engineers to the program, making a considerable investment in the future of nuclear energy. The AEC oversaw project security and facilitated access to government facilities that had been experimenting with nuclear energy, sharing valuable research and development work product, and expanding efforts to mine and process uranium.[11] The AEC broadened the effort after the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, with more utilities and manufacturers joining a program called the Nuclear Power Group. This program facilitated information and resource sharing among government agencies and corporate organizations to create commercial nuclear power in America, with the goal of building a functioning nuclear power plant. AEC engineers and scientists built an experimental boiling water reactor using low enriched uranium (BORAX I) at the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho. Based on the success of BORAX I–which included a controlled meltdown experiment to demonstrate its safety—the AEC’s Nuclear Power Group began the Power Development Reactor Program sponsoring prototype nuclear plants to supply electricity to the public.[12]

Commonwealth Edison responded to the Power Development Reactor Program with plans to build a boiling water reactor in Illinois. Under this program, General Electric (as designer and builder) and Commonwealth Edison (as owner and operator) developed plans to construct a 180,000-kilowatt nuclear plant following the basic design of the BORAX I. After securing project approvals and funding from the Nuclear Power Group (the $45 million project was 80% funded by Commonwealth Edison and 20% funded by the Nuclear Power Group), General Electric and Commonwealth Edison sited the plant on a 950-acre site in rural Grundy County, approximately 70 miles southwest of Chicago. After nearly six years of development and construction, Dresden Unit 1 came online in April 1960, the first privately-owned commercial nuclear power plant.[13]

While General Electric and Commonwealth Edison built the Dresden plant, AEC officials learned that private insurance companies refused to issue indemnity policies to Commonwealth Edison. The potential liabilities from a nuclear event were unknown, but potentially could run into billions of dollars, potentially bankrupting any insurer that issued an indemnity policy on the plant.[14] In response, the AEC supported the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act (an amendment to Atomic Energy Act of 1954 sponsored by two Illinois congressmen) under which insurance companies created insurance pools for nuclear reactors limited to $65 million in total liability, with the federal government liable for the cost of nuclear accidents beyond that limit (up to $500 million).[15] In other words, the US government stepped in to help utilities manage their operating risks by subsidizing their insurance costs.

Furthermore, Dresden Unit 1 would not have been possible without the accommodating environment provided to Commonwealth Edison by the State of Illinois. In contrast to the AEC and the federal government, Illinois helped Commonwealth Edison through its inaction, i.e., remaining “hands off” and not creating substantial regulatory barriers at the state level. Illinois permitted the AEC and Commonwealth Edison to oversee the launch of Dresden, and largely continued to play a passive role for nuclear plants that followed. In contrast, other states made attempts at regulation and oversight over the nuclear technological efforts within their borders, thus creating jurisdictional conflicts with AEC. A special Illinois legislative committee began studying nuclear power in 1955 which resulted in a handful of benign regulations over the years.[16] Meanwhile, federal-state conflicts over regulation were resolved in favor of the AEC as Congress passed Section 274, yet another amendment to the Atomic Energy Act. The new law provided the AEC was the primary regulator of nuclear technology and forced state regulation to be consistent with AEC standards. However, Section 274 allowed for state governors to enter agreements with the AEC to share regulatory oversight. Under such agreements, states were responsible for funding agencies that would carry out certain duties delegated by the AEC. In short, being an “Agreement State” allowed greater local influence in the planning and oversight of nuclear facilities but shifted that cost to state taxpayers. Several states opted for shared oversight during the 1960s; Illinois was not one of them.

For the next three decades Illinois government opted to follow the lead of the AEC (and then NRC): Illinois would not become an Agreement State until May 1987.[17] And while not rushing into regulating nuclear energy, the state attempted to encourage nuclear plant development throughout the 1960s.[18] Meanwhile, the efforts of Commonwealth Edison ensured Illinois would continue to see new nuclear power stations. Commonwealth Edison added two more reactors to Dresden and built a new two-reactor plant near the Quad Cities, plus it started building a new nuclear plant in Zion. Another Illinois utility, Illinois Power Company, built a plant in Clinton, Illinois.[19]However, Illinois began to take a more active role in regulating nuclear energy with the passage of the Electric Supplier Act in 1965, the State of Illinois began to regulate utilities under the Illinois Commerce Commission (or ICC), which set electrical rates and approved large capital projects, including the siting and construction of nuclear plants.[20]

Even after the successful start-up of Dresden Unit 1 by Commonwealth Edison in 1960, nuclear power’s financial feasibility remained largely unproven. Utilities going into the nuclear energy business only had rough cost estimates for building nuclear plants. Similarly, manufactures like General Electric and Westinghouse did not have standardized designs for reactors and faced unknown production costs as they fulfilled the first bevy of orders. Nevertheless, the AEC convinced these corporations to invest in the nuclear energy experiment.[21] Despite the financial ambiguities facing utilities in the 1960s, two exogenous factors helped drive new orders for nuclear reactors. First, utilities began power-pooling arrangements where excess electricity could be sold to other utilities on the American electrical grid, incenting utilities to build even larger nuclear plants to realize economies of scale. Second, the environment movement began to influence American politics and public policy on the issue of air pollution, causing utilities to anticipate increased regulation and operating costs for heavy polluting oil and coal plants.[22]

By the beginning of the 1970s, the AEC was largely successful in its effort to launch a commercial nuclear industry. Utilities ordered 100 new reactors between 1965 and 1970, and the average size of the reactors went from 600 megawatts to 1,000 megawatts. At the same time, the AEC began to experience administrative issues that undermined its credibility–one of the reasons for the interagency reorganization it would face in 1974.[23] From an economic standpoint, the industry began to understand a nuclear plant’s marginal cost to generate electricity was far lower than fossil-fuel plants (subject to varying commodity prices for coal and oil), but the capital costs required to build a nuclear plant were substantially higher.

The Nixon Administration favored nuclear energy, elevating development efforts after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implemented an oil embargo on the US for its support of Israel which quadrupled oil prices (the Energy Crisis). “Project Independence” set the goal of US energy independence by the end of the decade, with nuclear power playing a key role as an electricity source. The Ford Administration continued the policy, with President Ford setting the goal of 200 nuclear plants over 10 years in his 1975 State of the Union speech.[24] Yet these ambitious nuclear policy goals were quick to encounter headwinds. First, while the Energy Crisis appeared to be a boon to nuclear energy, it triggered a macroeconomic downturn that combined inflation with low aggregate demand (or “stagflation”) which, in turn, lowered the demand for electricity in the US. With less cash flow and lower projections for future electrical demand, utilities began to scale back their large capital projects, either deferring the opening of nuclear plants or just canceling projects altogether. By the mid-1970s, only eleven new nuclear plants went into the federal licensing process. Second, the environmental movement generated more antinuclear activism, growing beyond local opposition to plant development and into national organizations. The AEC, playing the role of partner to the industry, was quick to react to antinuclear opposition, sending its commissioners and senior officials out on media tours and speaking engagements to tout the benefits of nuclear power. Nevertheless, greater antinuclear activism motivated members of Congress to question AEC’s dual role as an industry supporter and regulator, recognizing the inherent conflict of interest which undermined the agency’s credibility as a watchdog to industry. The Nixon Administration began a major effort to reorganize the Executive Branch, including a consolidation of the various bureaus and agencies dealing with energy matters and targeted the AEC on behalf of environmentalists. This resulted in the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, ending the AEC, and splitting its research and regulatory functions across two agencies: the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Finally, administrative reorganization continued under President Carter, as both agencies were made part of the new cabinet-level Department of Energy—a response to the Energy Crisis and a political consensus for American energy independence.[25]

The end of the AEC did not spell the end of the US managerial, technocratic state’s support of commercial nuclear energy. While the NRC was a more cautious regulator than the AEC, it continued to help utilities meet licensing requirements and did not stand in the way of nuclear plant development.[26] It was the AEC’s old wine in a new bottle called the NRC.

Part II. Commonwealth Edison and Byron Station: Growing Commercial Nuclear Energy

By the early 1970s, Commonwealth Edison had built three nuclear plants (including a new plant in Zion, Illinois) and was building plants in LaSalle County and Morris, Illinois. In addition, the utility planned its next generation of plants: the Byron Station and another two-reactor plant named the Braidwood Station located in Will County. By 1973, Illinois was “the country’s No. 1 state for producing electricity from nuclear-powered generating stations” by 1973, with just under one-third of Commonwealth Edison’s electricity came from nuclear power.[27] Still, nuclear energy was in a relatively early stage of industrial development with many unknowns. Consequently, planning and building the Byron Station involved trial and error alongside coordinating a complex industrial project with hundreds of contractors. Furthermore, the growing body of AEC regulations introduced new compliance issues.

Commonwealth Edison picked Byron, Illinois as the location for a nuclear plant to serve its northern Illinois customers. Set on the Rock River and surrounded by prairie and farmland, Byron is approximately 70 miles due west of Chicago and 20 miles southwest of Rockford. Byron is located in Ogle County which had a population of approximately 40,000 in the early 1970s. Commonwealth Edison began land acquisitions in 1972, buying approximately 1,500 acres of farmland and opting to build cooling towers for the plant (as opposed to creating a man-made lake which required substantially more acreage).[28] On September 29, 1972, the company announced it would build the two-reactor Byron Station with a total budget of $200 million (an amount that would soon escalate) and a completion date in 1980 or 1981. For the next three years, Commonwealth Edison performed the development work needed to begin building the plant: plant engineering and design, site preparation, financing, public hearings, obtaining ICC approval, and the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) approval process.[29] However, construction of the plant began under the assumption Commonwealth Edison would receive final ASLB approval.[30]

At the beginning of 1976, the NRC approved the permit for Commonwealth Edison to build Byron Station after the ASLB found the project met regulatory requirements. According to the company, the plant would generate 1,120 megawatts of electricity to serve Commonwealth Edison’s 2.7 million customers in northern Illinois.[31] As part of the NRC approval, Commonwealth Edison submitted a massive application detailing plant safety and environmental impact. The Byron Station Environmental Report includes a cost/benefit analysis validating the Byron Station. The report concluded the expected financial benefits far exceeded potential costs, and any deleterious environmental impacts were within acceptable ranges. Regarding the latter, Commonwealth Edison asserted Byron Station would have a negligible impact on its surroundings, including (1) the drawdown of groundwater, (2) river biota lost due to water intake, (3) added fog from the cooling towers, (4) added salt discharge within a mile of the plant, (5) soil displacement and land conversion to an industrial use, and (6) discharges of “small concentrations of radioactive liquid effluents” and “gases” from the plant at levels below background radiation.[32] The implication of the report is that potential economic benefits far outweighed any negative environmental impact.

Cost-benefit was demonstrated using a net present value analysis to estimate the value of electricity generated by the plant ($1.25 billion) which far exceeded its combined capital and capital and operating costs ($899 million).[33]In addition, the plant would provide the economic benefits of more local employment and new tax revenues.[34]However, it is important to note there was little or no risk analysis in the report, with no mention of issues such as quality assurance, monitoring, or disaster planning. Nor was there mention of any plan for disposing of the Byron Station’s radioactive waste was not highlighted in the reported.[35]

Financially, Commonwealth Edison tied itself to nuclear energy, making financial commitments that could be potentially ruinous to the corporation.[36] It operated coal and oil plants in Illinois alongside its new nuclear plants, but future capital investment in the 1970s was almost wholly focused on expanding nuclear capacity. The company spent $4.5 billion on plant construction between 1974 and 1978. This capital spending required both new equity (issuing preferred stock) and debt financing (issuing bonds and obtaining bank loans). Consequently, the 1974-78 period saw Commonwealth Edison expand its capitalization by $2.6 billion, including $1.4 billion of additional long-term debt. In other words, the company grew its investment in utility plants 11% per year over five years, using debt to finance over 50% of the expansion (see table below).[37]

(all $ in 000s) 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 5-Yr CAG%
Capital Expenditures $587,971 $667,916 $928,332 $1,040,898 $1,317,207
Net Book Value of Utility Plant $4,560,750 $5,045,209 $5,778,584 $6,607,655 $7,680,628 11.0%
Total Long-Term Debt $2,018,386 $2,332,537 $2,775,382 $3,029,417 $3,422,507 11.1%
Total Capitalization $3,986,141 $4,535,263 $5,186,032 $5,798,816 $6,601,794 10.6%
Debt/Capitalization 50.6% 51.4% 53.5% 52.2% 51.8%



Commonwealth Edison’s nuclear strategy became riskier as both the construction costs of nuclear plants and the regulatory environment became more uncertain. While rate regulation provided the ability to predict revenues on a per unit basis (and Commonwealth Edison likely had the confidence it could lobby the ICC for higher rates, which it did several times in the 1970s and 1980s), variable demand for electricity was a systemic risk faced by all utilities. Thus, both nuclear plant investment costs and future revenues were highly uncertain.[38]

Nevertheless, Commonwealth Edison believed the Byron Station held an opportunity for massive profits. The present values in the Byron Station Environmental Report can be used to derive both aggregate future values and near-term financial impact:

(all $ in 000s)
Reported Present Values
Derived Aggregate Values*
Estimated Impact Over 10-Years
Average Annual Impact
Impact on ComEd
Electrical Generation $1,248.5 $6,845.7 $663.3 $66.3
Less: Capital & Operating Costs $898.8 $4,928.2 $477.5 $47.7
Net Value $349.7 $1,917.5 $185.8 $18.6
Impact on Ogle County
Local Employment $90.3 $495.1 $48.0 $4.8
Taxes Generated $263.4 $1,444.3 $139.9 $14.0
*Reapplying 10% discount rate over a 30-year projection period


While this is only a high-level analysis, it demonstrates the Commonwealth Edison believed the Byron Station had immense economic value: an opportunity to increase the economic value of its enterprise by nearly $2 billion and its annual net income by 10%.[39]

Commonwealth Edison staked its financial future on nuclear plants like the Byron Station. As a nuclear pioneer, the company responded to the incentives offered by the AEC and other government agencies, serving as a good corporate citizen in furthering the objectives of the managerial, technocratic state. On November 30, 1978, following two years building the physical plant for the Byron Station, Commonwealth Edison filed its application for a facility operating license with the NRC.[40] But as Byron Station’s cooling towers were being built over the fields of Ogle County, the operating environment for nuclear energy began to change for many reasons. First, demand for electricity grew more volatile and unpredictable.[41] Second, the trial-and-error process of plant construction created numerous delays and cost overruns. The Byron Station was estimated to cost $731 million to build when the project broke ground; by 1985, that cost grew to $4.65 billion. While the final cost this was six times the original estimate, it is important to note that in real terms (i.e., adjusted for inflation) Byron’s original cost estimate was closer to $1.6 billion in 1985 dollars, so the cost overrun was closer to three times the original cost.[42] Third, opposition to nuclear power added to the challenging operating environment for nuclear plants. In 1979, Commonwealth Edison and other utilities confronted a massive public relations crisis created by Three Mile Island—an event that energized the “No Nukes” antinuclear movement. In Rockford and DeKalb, a handful of antinuclear activists were already engaged in fighting against nuclear energy, Commonwealth Edison, and the Byron Station.

Part III. DAARE and SAFE: Opposing Commercial Nuclear Energy

The DeKalb Area Alliance for Responsible Energy (DAARE) and the Sinnissippi Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) opposed every aspect of nuclear technology and exemplify grassroots antinuclear activists of the late 1970s and early 1980s. This final part of this post explores DAARE and SAFE as reactions against the pro-nuclear US government, going beyond opposition to the Byron Station and Commonwealth Edison. DAARE and SAFE engaged in traditional means of activism aimed at swaying public opinion against the managerial, technocratic state policies supporting nuclear energy. The activists represented an American-progressive worldview of the antinuclear movement and a left-wing ideology supporting renewable energy, protecting public health, eliminating corporate influence in government, opposing war and nuclear weapons, and protecting the environment.

Arguably, the US government’s promotion of nuclear power was consistent with liberal democratic notions of progress, equating economic growth and scientific advancement with social benefit. In this formulation, the nuclear consensus described by James W. Feldman (discussed in Part I) assumed the social benefits of nuclear energy far exceeded development costs and was worth the exposure to known potential risks. In contrast, the activists took a dim view of nuclear America. An essay from a DAARE newsletter in 1980 discusses its point of view:

Nuclear power is no mere accident. It just didn’t “happen” that the United States government works with the utilities, industries, and other corporations to promote and develop this insidious form of power production. We let it happen through an intellectual abdication of wisdom to dogmatism; by submitting unquestioningly to any value system that calls in the name of “science”.[43]

In a similar vein, historians and other intellectuals made critical interpretations of the US nuclear state. Steven M. Hoffman and John Byrne illustrated the hazards of a systemic belief in nuclear power’s ultimate societal benefit in a case study of five unprofitable nuclear plans in Washington state that cost hundreds of millions to build.[44] Elite theory offers another explanation for US nuclear policy, the pro-development agenda largely benefiting corporate interests and, ultimately, wealthy executives, shareholders, and advisors in the governing class. Elite groups such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy shaped both public policy and promoted corporate support for commercial nuclear power, calling for federal government funded research, development, and construction of nuclear facilities. Finally, the availability of cheap and ample energy was also consistent with US economic policies favoring consumer consumption and continual growth (or “sprawl”), ensuring supply does not outstrip demand and cause recession.[45]

It is important to note that public opposition to nuclear plants was connected to the technology’s association with nuclear weapons (discussed in Part I). As plants were built in the US, a few local opposition efforts ended up making deep impressions on the industry and aided the antinuclear movement that followed in the 1970s. The first intervention was in 1957 when Detroit Edison Company and the AEC’s Nuclear Power Group decided to build Fermi 1, an experimental breeder reactor, in Lagoona Beach, Michigan (approximately 20 miles from Detroit). Clinton Anderson, a Democratic Senator from New Mexico who chaired the AEC’s oversight board, opposed the project for political reasons and worked with the United Auto Workers to stop the plant. This included a legal intervention that set the precedent that all AEC approval processes should involve public hearings (this was later codified in the Price-Anderson Act). Insiders at the AEC and utilities expected hearings to be merely symbolic, but environmental activists used the AEC licensing process to oppose nuclear plants.[46] The other activist legal victory was in the case Calvert Cliff Coordinating Committee v. AEC where citizens groups intervened to force the AEC to follow the National Environmental Policy Act and study the potential environmental impact of nuclear plants. This decision opened the door for activists to study the cost/benefit, safety, environmental, and other analyses submitted to the AEC as part of the licensing process.[47] Legal intervention involved confronting the managerial, technocratic state on its own terms: rather than standing outside chanting and holding a placard, an AEC intervention required legal and technical expertise (engineering, medicine, environmental science). Thus, an important aspect of the antinuclear movement was “expert dissent and legal opposition in a social movement’s range of activities.”[48] This is one of the strategies DAARE and SAFE deployed in their opposition to the Byron Station.

Unsurprisingly, DAARE and SAFE are readily located in the “No Nukes” antinuclear movement of the 1970s and early 1980s, reaching its highpoint in the wake of Three Mile Island in 1979. The American antinuclear movement came out of the environmental movement of the late 1960s. There was also substantial overlap between peace activists against nuclear weapons and activists opposing nuclear power. While there were local opponents to nuclear plants in the past, activist groups took on broader mandates and larger ambitions in the late 1960s.[49] In the early 1970s groups focused on opposing nuclear energy emerged during national debates over energy policy. Given the origins of the antinuclear movement, these groups overlapped with American progressivism and tended toward left-wing ideology. James M. Jasper describes the movement as “small revolutionary sects saw [nuclear energy] as capitalist profit-seeking at the expense of human lives; the counterculture saw it as technology out of control, growing beyond human scale.”[50]

In the late 1970s, the antinuclear movement was successful in elevating nuclear power to a national debate. The number of antinuclear protests grew from under ten in 1975, to around forty in 1978, and then peaking at over one hundred in 1979 in the wake of Three Mile Island.[51] High profile protests by the Clamshell Alliance (opposing the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire) and the Abalone Alliance (opposing Diablo Canyon) garnered national media attention. Successful antinuclear protests involved mobilizing critical masses of supporters at rallies and demonstrations with the goal of receiving media coverage. Television, radio, and newspaper coverage of demonstrations disseminated the antinuclear message that influenced public opinion and, ultimately, elected officials. These groups were supported by national public interest groups like Ralph Nader’s Citizens Movement Against Nuclear Power (in addition to national-level advocacy and lobbying, it also offered guidance and resources to local anti-nuclear activists) and Business and Professional People in the Public Interest (or BPI, an organization focused on conducting legal interventions).[52] In a few cases these movements stopped plants from being built. For example, the San Joaquin Nuclear Project was brought down by a Kern County public proposition in 1978.[53] However, the main outcome of successful opposition was to delay plants from being opened and to drive up the financial and political costs of nuclear energy. The Three Mile Island incident gained national attention and valorized the antinuclear movement’s efforts to emphasize the potential dangers of nuclear energy. Despite changes in public opinion against nuclear energy, federal government responses to Three Mile Island did not stray far from the managerial, technocratic state policies described in Part I of this post.[54]

By way of background, DAARE was formed in 1978 by antinuclear activists at Northern Illinois University (NIU) and local DeKalb residents. In one telling, DAARE began with the arrest of activists from DeKalb protesting at the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire.[55] DAARE’s statement of purpose was firmly antinuclear, declaring nuclear power “a unique, unprecedented and definitive hazard in our lives and the lives of future generations.” DAARE supported “responsible energy” and aimed at promoting “public debate on energy alternatives” (which probably implies wind and solar energy; it is doubtful this organization wanted more use of fossil fuel). Tactically, DAARE aimed at educating the public about the dangers of nuclear power and the benefits of “positive alternatives to nuclear power”, supporting “legal and legislative efforts” against nuclear energy, engaging in “nonviolent direct action projects”, and supporting other antinuclear groups.[56] The Byron Station was already well underway when DAARE formed, so the organization should not be understood as single-issue “NIMBY” group. However, the Byron Station’s proximity figured highly in the group’s communications and activities. For example, a document entitled “D.A.A.R.E.’s Views on Nuclear Power” is a one-page manifesto about the dangers of nuclear energy and the need for “energy conservation”, emphasizing the Byron Station as unnecessary, expensive, and unsafe given potential radiation exposures in the case of an accident.[57] Two NIU professors were founders and leaders of DAARE: Bruce von Zellen, a biology professor, and Axel Meyer, a physics professor. In every respect DAARE was a grassroots organization: modestly funded, locally supported, strictly voluntary, and with local activists coming and going in leadership roles.[58]

SAFE was also formed in 1978, calling itself “the Rockford area’s first antinuclear, pro-solar energy-emphasis organization.”  Like DAARE, SAFE was also volunteer-run and not a one-issue “NIMBY” group. SAFE’s “major objective” was “responsible energy: No nuclear power; A solar-based economy.” The group held other objectives including “world peace and national security: No nuclear weapons”, “a healthy environment”, “people controlling their own lives: Appropriate scale technology; affordable utilities; Satisfying work for all in safe conditions” and “democratic process and nonviolent action.”[59] Two experienced activists played central roles in running SAFE: Stanley Campbell, a founder who served as Secretary, and Diane Chavez who managed the Byron Station legal intervention and served as the official spokesperson. SAFE was also a grassroots group and had many of the same characteristics as DAARE, except it had a larger membership and more consistent leadership.[60]

DAARE and SAFE followed examples set by other antinuclear groups aimed at influencing public opinion against nuclear energy.[61] DAARE and SAFE leaders networked with other anti-nuclear groups, including attending national, regional, and state meetings and conferences. These events typically had keynote speakers, legislative updates, and included workshops aimed at helping activists run their local organizations. For example, the Midwest No-Nukes Conference held in Gary, Indiana in February 1979 offered workshops on member education, sharing “experiences and strategies” with other groups, community outreach strategies, and “skills workshops (how-to’s).”[62] Members of DAARE and SAFE also participated in anti-nuclear protests alongside other activists as part of the movement against nuclear power. For example, DAARE members frequently participated in protests at General Electric’s fuel storage plant in Morris, Illinois and a SAFE newsletter announced, “[w]e responded to Three Mile Island with a two-pronged demonstration and sent two persons to the National March on Washington.”[63]

Throughout their opposition to Byron Station, DAARE and SAFE organized dozens of rallies and protests aimed at attracting media attention. SAFE’s very first event was a protest at the Byron Station on June 24, 1978, involving 200 demonstrators and including DAARE members, coinciding with a major event at Seabrook. After this, there were regular demonstrations held by the Byron Station construction site.[64] These events tended to draw 50 people or less. Given the number of protestors, clearly DAARE and SAFE protests could not be considered major events; however, the protests managed to garner local newspaper attention, though it is unknown if television and radio outlets also covered these protests.[65] Finally, a DAARE newsletter revealed the organization may not have put much value in direct action. An article describing a protest of 2,000 people at Seabrook in New Hampshire observes that the “demonstrators would have spent their time and effort better in grassroots organizing and public education.”[66]

On that front, DAARE and SAFE used multiple methods aimed at “grassroots organizing and public education” in service of influencing public opinion. First and foremost, DAARE and SAFE focused on media relations. Both groups frequently issued press releases and wrote letters to the editor to local newspapers aimed at publication. DAARE and SAFE spokespeople made radio appearances to discuss nuclear energy (almost exclusively on WNIU, DeKalb’s National Public Radio affiliate). In addition, DAARE and SAFE ran government relations efforts involving correspondence, phone calls, and meetings with elected officials and state and federal agencies. These efforts typically related to pending legislation or proposed administrative rule changes that would work against the nuclear industry.[67]Organization leaders provide testimony at Illinois legislative meetings and agencies such as the Illinois Commission on Atomic Energy and the ICC. Both organizations also encouraged their members to write federal and state elected officials to express opposition to Byron Station, pending legislation, and proposed administrative rule changes. The names and addresses of senators and representatives were included in newsletters along with suggested talking points. Supportive politicians were praised in the newsletters (e.g., “Attorney General William Scott has taken many actions to protect the citizens of Illinois, such as initiating law suits [sic] and acting as an intervenor in Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceedings.”[68]). There are also a few instances where the groups participated in political fundraising.Finally, DAARE and SAFE engaged in their communities in order to spread their antinuclear message. Leaders frequently gave public speeches at local community organizations (such as churches, clubs, schools, other environmental groups, other activist groups). DAARE and SAFE organized frequent speaking events, debates, membership drives, antinuclear movie screenings, concerts, and other open meetings where the public was invited.

DAARE and SAFE reacted to the pro-nuclear policies of the US government and pursued a broader ideological agenda beyond environmental activism. The methods and messages employed by DAARE and SAFE demonstrate a broader program of opposition to the managerial, technocratic state policies that both spawned and continued to nurture the nuclear energy industry. The following explores those methods and messages: (1) leading a legal intervention that provided a forum for confronting nuclear policy, (2) criticizing the NRC as a promotor of nuclear energy (and therefore an ineffectual regulator), (3) undermining the concept of safe nuclear power, (4) questioning Commonwealth Edison’s organizational competence, and (5) critiquing nuclear energy as an aspect of the American right-wing.

  1. Legal Intervention

The public nature of the NRC licensing process gave an open door for the activists to confront nuclear energy. DAARE and SAFE joined the Rockford League of Women Voters as “intervenors” (or litigants) in the NRC’s administrative hearings to approve Commonwealth Edison’s operating license. By way of overview, the intervention process took place between January 1979 and November 1984, lasting almost six years. The following is a timeline of milestones:

  • January 1979: DAARE and SAFE representatives are granted intervenor status by the NRC and file contentions against licensure. An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel of three judges were assigned to the proceedings.
  • August 1979: The ASLB panel allows the intervention to move ahead and for the parties to hold pretrial conferences and conduct discovery.
  • September 1979 to March 1982: The intervenors, Commonwealth Edison, and NRC staff go through pretrial discovery and negotiated the contentions that would be litigated at the ASLB hearing.
  • April 1982 and February 1983: The ASLB panel ruled on various motions that narrowed the list of contentions to be heard, and the parties agreed to the final issues to be litigated at the ASLB hearing.
  • March 1983 to May 1983; August 1983: The ASLB panel hearing involving DAARE, SAFE, and the Rockford League of Women’s Voters, Commonwealth Edison, and NRC staff.
  • January 13, 1984: The ASLB panel issued an initial decision denying an operating license for the Byron Station for deficiencies in its quality assurance and quality control program (the “QA-QC Issue”). Following this, Commonwealth Edison appeared the decision to the ASLB Appeal Board.
  • May 7, 1984: Following the ASLB Appeal Board hearing on April 26, 1984, the Appeal Board reversed the panel’s decision on the QA-QC Issue and ordered the panel to allow Commonwealth Edison to present additional evidence in support of its application for an operating license.
  • August 22-25, 1984: The ASLB panel reconvened the parties and reheard arguments on the remanded QA-QC Issue.
  • October 16, 1984: The ASLB panel issued a supplemental initial decision to grant an operating license for the Byron Station.
  • October 31, 1984: The NRC begins final steps on issuing an operating license.
  • November 2, 1984: The intervenors filed an appeal to the ASLB Appeal Board followed by a hearing on November 29 but do not prevail on any issue.
  • February 17, 1985: The NRC issued a 40-year operating license to Commonwealth Edison for the Byron Station.

In fundamental terms, the intervention in the Byron Station’s operating license hearings was about making the US government accountable for nuclear energy. Public hearings on a nuclear plant operating license only offer the veneer of democratic participation; the complexity of the process favored special interests with access to both sophisticated experts and financial resources. The history of the DAARE/SAFE intervention reveals the challenges of navigating a complicated and bureaucratic legal process, as well as challenging the NRC’s close relationship with the nuclear industry. The invention also reveals the one-off nature of nuclear plant projects at this time, as Commonwealth Edison had to remedy and clarify a number of deficiencies in its operating license application as the legal process wore on. Commonwealth Edison was highly experienced in building nuclear plants and getting them licensed, but that was a relative position: after all, the industry had only existed since 1960.

This post will not attempt to retell the entire six-year history of this legal process. Rather, the following analyzes key aspects of intervention as a means of opposing managerial, technocratic state nuclear policy. First and foremost, both organizations recognized that the NRC’s licensure process gave them a forum to confront nuclear policy. However, the complexity of the process was too challenging for DAARE’s leadership. To remain as litigants, SAFE’s leadership brought added focus, volunteers, and technical skills. Under SAFE’s leadership, the QA/QC Issue and deficiencies in the emergency evacuation plan proved to be impactful to the licensing process, proving activists could use NRC regulations to their advantage. Finally, rightly or wrongly, the activists believed the NRC was a de factolitigant in the intervention on the side of Commonwealth Edison.

The leaders of DAARE and SAFE realized the importance of confronting the managerial, technocratic state on its own terms. The Rockford League of Women’s Voters decided to intervene in the Byron Station licensing process and suggested SAFE and DAARE formally join as intervenors.[69] DAARE expressed its rationale to its members in its January 1979 newsletter:

Many people feel that the NRC proceedings are a charade in that the odds are hopelessly stacked against the intervenors. Admittedly the odds of preventing licenses from being granted are small. However, there is a chance that new or unresolved issues could be uncovered in the proceedings and be used to gain greater protection of the public’s health and safety.[70]

SAFE’s members debated whether to formally intervene. Managing a legal process was far from SAFE’s original mission and potentially compromised the group’s moral stand against nuclear energy. However, SAFE believed DAARE’s leaders would manage the intervention, leaving SAFE to provide “support (fund raising, publicity).”[71]Given limited access to funding, the groups pooled their resources. A DAARE press release from January 1979 announced the intervention and stated SAFE joined its intervention petition, and representatives from both groups made formal petitions for public hearings to the NRC that month.[72]

NIU professors von Zellen and Myers managed the intervention process for the first year with the help of several DAARE volunteers. Bruce von Zellen designated as lead intervenor. However, the complexity of the process would eventually prove too challenging for DAARE’s leadership. After the NRC recognized its representatives with intervenor status, DAARE and SAFE submitted ten contentions against Commonwealth Edison’s petition for an operating license. The first steps of the intervention process involved agreeing which contentions were admissible to be litigated at the ASLB proceedings and then going through the “discovery process” (i.e., the litigants exchanging the evidence they planned to present at trial in support of each contention). In reviewing various correspondence between the parties, the DAARE intervenors delayed pretrial meetings with Commonwealth Edison’s and NRC’s counsel and, on a few occasions, directly corresponded with NRC legal staff for legal guidance. Finally, a pretrial meeting was held on September 25, 1979, to discuss the contentions and intervention process. The DAARE and SAFE intervenors, NRC staff counsel, and Commonwealth Edison’s legal counsel were all in attendance. The parties discussed the “[d]raftmanship and substance” of the contentions as well as the intervenors’ ability to manage the intervention effort. NRC counsel wrote, “The outcome of that meeting was that Intervenors would obtain technical assistance, consult with counsel, and forward revised proposed contentions to [Commonwealth Edison and the NRC].” [73] After this, DAARE and SAFE engaged its first legal counsel.[74]

As the NRC’s counsel indicated, the intervenors’ contentions needed substantial reworking. The original ten contentions (written by DAARE in early 1979) included several broad, sweeping claims that where either beyond the purview of the ASLB process (for example, Byron Station was unnecessary because Illinois had ample sources of electrical supply) or could not be supported with available evidence (for example, “generic defects” that applied to all nuclear plants). After months of negotiating with both NRC legal staff and Commonwealth Edison’s legal counsel, by mid-1980 the parties agreed that the following five revised and narrowed contentions: (1) Commonwealth Edison’s “poor performance record”, (2) the lack of an emergency evacuation plan, (3) the risk of hydrogen explosions similar to the Three Mile Island incident, (4) the need to consider the public’s exposure to cumulative doses of radiation, and (5) issues with the plant’s design for holding its uranium fuel.[75]

The intervenors had outside legal counsel come and go during pre-trail discovery. DAARE’s leadership had challenges identifying and hiring expert witnesses to testify in support of the intervenor’s contentions–a time-pressing concern given those experts would have to be proffered to Commonwealth Edison and NRC counsel. For example, a DAARE response to a Commonwealth Edison interrogatory offers a “list of possible witnesses” of nine individuals but had the caveated that DAARE did not know what testimony these individuals would offer nor whether they would even agree to serve as expert witnesses.[76] In October 1981, Commonwealth Edison petitioned for sanctions against DAARE and SAFE for failing to respond to discovery requests; however, the ASLB panel decided the groups had made good faith efforts in the proceedings and ruled against the petition.[77] Shortly thereafter, SAFE’s leadership took over the intervention from DAARE’s leadership. Going forward, NIU professors von Zellen and Meyer would advise SAFE on technical matters.[78]

To carry out this intervention, SAFE’s leadership (namely, Stanley Campbell and Diane Chavez) had to manage multiple technical and regulatory issues such as construction standards, environmental impacts, safety precautions, statutory interpretation, and litigation process. In addition, the effort also required both groups to raise funds to pay for legal counsel, expert testimony, and the expenses (mostly copying and courier fees). However, often funds were lacking, so SAFE’s volunteers did a great deal of the legal and technical work themselves, including “researching and writing their own interrogatories, typing, and often hand delivering documents”.[79] During discovery, SAFE sent a message to its members looking for volunteers “to help us rifle COM-Eds [sic] files” at its offices in Chicago.[80]

Finding and retaining expert witnesses was a continuous challenge. SAFE’S Spring 1982 Newsletter announced finding four scientists to testify and estimated it needed $5,000 to cover these expenses. The newsletter urged members to make donations immediately.[81] Throughout discovery, SAFE claimed certain experts would support their contentions: the physicist Michio Kaku was to provide testimony on nuclear plant failures; Richard Webb, a nuclear engineer, was an expert witness on the risk of hydrogen explosions; and Earl Gulbransen, a former Westinghouse engineer, was declared expert witness on “uranium fuel cladding”; and Ernest J. Sternglass, a professor of radiological physics, was to be an expert witness on plant radioactive emissions.[82]

A construction worker from the Byron Station claimed the quality control programs had problems. This led to the introduction of the QA/QC Issue, modifying the contention that pointed to problems in Commonwealth Edison’s operating history. As a result, SAFE publicly announced it was looking for information about the Byron Station’s construction from the workers who had been on site. SAFE set up a “hot line” staffed with volunteers and promised legal support for workers offering information. As a result, SAFE received calls from construction workers who provided critical information about building standards, quality oversight, and working conditions. Three construction workers agreed to testify on behalf of the intervenors on “non-compliant construction techniques” raising safety concerns about the plant.[83]

As the ASLB panel hearing date approached, the DAARE and SAFE contentions were narrowed once again. At a pretrial hearing held in August 1982, the DAARE and SAFE contentions were brought down to four issues following a motion summary disposition filed by Commonwealth Edison and the NRC legal staff. The remaining contentions were (1) the sufficiency of the quality assurance program for the plant’s construction (i.e., the QA/QC Issue), (2) the adequacy of the community evacuation plan, (3) potential problems with Westinghouse steam generators, and (4) the potential radiological risk from accidents.[84]  After this, SAFE and the Rockford League of Women Voters decided to coordinate their efforts. First, SAFE and DAARE would be represented at trial by Business and Professional People in the Public Interest (BPI), which had also served as the League’s counsel. BPI represented DAARE and SAFE pro bono. Specifically, an experienced litigator named Jane Whicher would handle the case for DAARE and SAFE. Second, the intervenors struck a deal with Commonwealth Edison and the NRC to divide their efforts on the remaining contentions: DAARE and SAFE were to take lead on the QA/QC Issue and emergency evacuation contention; the League was to take over the remaining two contentions (issues with steam generators and risk of accidents) plus four other contentions brought by the League that had survived challenges.[85]

SAFE’s leadership the QA/QC Issue and deficiencies in the emergency evacuation plan proved to be impactful on the licensing process, proving activists could use NRC regulations to their advantage. Most of all, the QA/QC Issue exposed the shortcomings in Commonwealth Edison’s construction oversight compliance. DAARE and SAFE contended Hatfield Electric Company failed to adhere to a quality assurance processes, while several other contractors performing piping, welding, and hanger supports had similar compliance failings.[86] At trial, the ASLB panel was not convinced Commonwealth Edison substantively complied NRC regulations and agreed with the intervenors that “Hatfield is not the only Byron contractor causing concern about the effectiveness of [Commonwealth Edison’s] control over its contractors.” The ASLB panel also cited Commonwealth Edison’s “very long record of noncompliances [sic] with NRC requirements” but rationalized “it is also a very large nuclear utility.”[87] It was on this basis that the ASLB panel ordered Commonwealth Edison to perform a re-inspection on the Byron Plant and denied issuance of an operating license. The ASLB decision was a “historic decision-the first time any NRC ASLB had denied an [sic] utility a license to operate a nuclear power plant” because “Commonwealth Edison had failed to demonstrate that the Byron plant was constructed safely due to the inadequate QA/QC program it followed in plant construction.”[88] It is important to note SAFE and DAARE did not prove there were deficiencies in the plant’s design or mistakes in its construction; rather, they proved Commonwealth Edison did not comply with NRC quality assurance. However, in the media, the activists used the QA/QC Issue to imply the Byron Station’s had a bad design, poor construction standards, and was therefore unsafe.[89]

On the other hand, DAARE and SAFE did not prevail on the emergency evacuation plan. The emergency evacuation plan was created by Commonwealth Edison, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and state and local emergency services agencies. Leading up to trial, SAFE had volunteers in the community doing interviews and researching evacuation procedures. The intervenors raised many critical questions about the plan and identified regulatory deficiencies, arguing the plan did not meet NRC minimum standards for evacuation plans due to unrealistic estimates and misevaluation of municipal emergency resources.[90] The ASLB panel ultimately deferred to local officials’ support for Commonwealth Edison’s emergency evacuation plan, as “high-ranking Illinois emergency and disaster agency officials appeared at the hearing” who “provided convincing assurances that careful attention is being paid to the Byron emergency plans and that the plans will satisfy regulatory requirements.”[91] In contrast, SAFE was only able to produce a affidavits from ten low-level officials critical of the evacuation plan.[92]

Nevertheless, for Commonwealth Edison the denial of the license was unexpected and proved to be an embarrassment. The Wall Street Journal ran a story citing the utility’s numerous fines and past issues with contractors, including Systems Control Corporation which had falsified quality assurance reports to Commonwealth Edison in the recent past. “Commonwealth Edison’s problems have been building for a long time, an examination of federal agency reports suggests.”[93] The short-term financial effects included a credit rating downgrade and an immediate sell-off of Commonwealth Edison’s stock. However, Commonwealth Edison’s leadership believed the ASLB panel had erred in its judgment.[94] Commonwealth Edison implemented a re-inspection program while appealing the judgment. The ASLB Appeal Board reversed the ASLB panel and agreed with Commonwealth Edison that the ASLB panel had erred, and the operating license should have been approved along with an order for re-inspection to address the QA/QC Issue. The Appeal Board pointed to the lack of evidence showing “the actual existence of uncorrected construction deficiencies of potential safety significance.”[95] The Appeal Board decision paved the way for Commonwealth Edison’s final victory.[96]

Despite the outcome, the activists believed the intervention was good for their cause as well as the community. In addition to delaying the plant, SAFE reasoned the NRC intervention had positive consequences making the Byron Station a safer operation, pointing to an upgraded quality assurance program for contractors, improved radiation protection and monitoring for workers, improvements to the emergency evacuation plan, “fixes to the Westinghouse steam generators”, updated seismic and groundwater studies, delaying a rate hike for Commonwealth Edison, and causing the ICC to audit the construction costs of the Byron Station.[97] However, it is ironic that SAFE’s participation in the operating license process contributed to operating improvements for nuclear plants.

Finally, SAFE and DAARE claimed the NRC’s staff supported Commonwealth Edison throughout the licensure battle. For example, in a membership update on a recent ASLB hearing, an activist described impressions of the NRC representatives in attendance: “NRC Staff is not only PRO-BYRON, but puts Edison in the shadows a shade to Edison’s embarrassment.”[98] In another communication to members, an activist describes the NRC staff as one of “the bad guys” (along with Commonwealth Edison and its law firm Isham, Lincoln & Beale) who have “good hearts but are so overworked” but “usually agrees with Edison before the judges” and were “sometimes in awe of Com-Ed”.[99] Paul Holmbeck, the SAFE volunteer and NIU honors student, observed “The NRC for its part exhibited a strong bias toward licensing. In fact, many intervenors found the NRC staff to be a greater foe than Edison.”[100] More broadly, the belief the NRC sided with Commonwealth Edison is consistent with the frequent rhetorical attacks SAFE and DAARE made on the agency.

  1. Criticizing the NRC

DAARE and SAFE criticized the NRC and as a promotor of nuclear energy—partners of the industry and corporations like Commonwealth Edison–and therefore ineffectual regulators willing to expose the public to dangerous technology. The activists provided a fierce critique of the NRC–the fountainhead of managerial, technocratic state nuclear policy.

The groups made frequent attacks on the NRC for engaging in motivated reasoning when it came to nuclear plant safety. For example, a DAARE newsletter asserts quality assurance inspections on the Byron Station ordered by the government would be ineffectual because “[t]he DOE [Department of Energy] is publicly committed to nuclear power and it seems certain that the choice of firms and the methods employed will follow the same old patterns of institutional bias.”[101] Another newsletter describes the NRC investigating “allegations of non-compliance with NRC electrical construction guidelines” at the Byron Station and finding major infractions, prompting DAARE to take the side of the whistleblower and conclude “the NRC didn’t find anything wrong because it didn’t look.”[102]

The activists also believed the NRC was capable of covering-up multiple incidents. In discussing the anniversary of Three Mile Island, DAARE accused the US government of a cover-up because it “already decided that the accident had no adverse health effect and would blantly [sic] ignore any evidence to the contrary” and concluded, “[o]ur government’s cynicism borders on the criminal. When are the people in this country going to realize that our government is going to build nukes even if it kills them.”[103] Another essay accused the US government of wanting to cover-up the dangers of radiation, citing a Sun-Times article from March 12, 1978: “Everyone who ever opposed the official point of view of the Atomic Energy Commission and Energy Research and Development Administration has had the same kind of problems. A pattern of harassment, suppression, censorship and reprisal…has plagued scientists who have concluded that even small doses of radiation can be dangerous.”[104] As the intervention on NRC licensing came to an end, SAFE accused the regional NRC official James Keppler of “covering up the problems at Zimmer in Ohio and Midland in Michigan, plus whitewashing the death of Karen Silkwood in Oklahoma.”[105]

In addition, the activists characterized the NRC of engaging in flawed science. In a DAARE handout entitled “Do YOU want nuclear reactors at Byron, Illinois?” the group accuses the NRC as having “no scientific basis for determining the level of risk involved in the operation of a nuclear reactor” and ignoring the potential harm caused by the radiation released as part of normal operations.[106] In a similar vein, a DAARE newsletter discusses the NRC’s acknowledgment of flawed AEC experiments showing reactors had minimal impact on soil in the area around a plant, pointing to other studies that show dangerous elements like strontium 90 getting into the food supply.[107]

Another line of criticism was questioning the NRC’s institutional competence. For example, in 1980 Commonwealth Edison was acquitted of federal charges that it violated nuclear security regulations at its Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station. DAARE pointed to the reason for the acquittal: NRC officials had not informed the utility about needed changes to the plant’s security regime. While Commonwealth Edison’s reputation suffered for having bad security at a nuclear plant, the NRC looked worse. “[T]he decision of the jury does point out that the NRC is not a very effective regulator. Com.Ed. [sic] won because it proved NRC incompetence.”[108] In a “commentary” about the postponed opening of the Diablo Canyon plant in 1982 due to seismic safety concerns, SAFE asserted “the real victory was not the temporary shutdown but the proof that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is incapable of regulating this industry” and concludes, “And where was the NRC? It was an obvious fact they [sic] never monitored the construction of this plant.”[109]

Another line of attack was accusing the NRC of blatant boosterism. A DAARE newsletter argued the nuclear power was uneconomical because of its high construction and operating costs and attributes the existence of nuclear power plants to federal government policies: “There wouldn’t be any nuclear plants today without huge federal subsidies, courtesy of the American taxpayer.”[110]

Finally, DAARE and SAFE newsletters frequently advocated conservation and renewable energy—and derided the US government’s lack of initiative on these fronts. As environmental activists, DAARE and SAFE believed in conservation in general and promoted it in communications, but also saw government-driven energy conservation as a means to fewer nuclear plants. Regarding renewable energy, DAARE and SAFE tended to discuss wind, solar, and biomass fuels at a high-level, simply educating the reader about the existence of the alternatives and praising them for their safety, environmental, and societal benefits.[111]

  1. Undermining the Concept of Safe Nuclear Power

DAARE and SAFE attempted to undermine the basic idea that nuclear power was a safe form of energy. Communications from the organizations, especially the newsletters, highlighted any nuclear accident or incident that made the news. These stories were often accompanied with speculation that the incident could have been worse. For example, a newsletter from late 1979 discusses three recent incidents: cites a tube rupture at the Prairie Island plant in Minnesota, a helium leak that forced the shutdown of the Fort St. Vrain plant in Colorado, and a mechanical failure that caused xenon gas to be vented from the North Ann plant in Virginia.[112] More than just making utilities look bad, this was an attack on the managerial, technocratic state for “placing American lives in danger.”

Along the same lines, the two organizations produced and disseminated antinuclear “education” materials in many of its pamphlets, presentations, official letters, and membership newsletters. For example, a DAARE newsletter from 1978 features an essay entitled “What is Radiation?” which offers research about the dangers of radioactive materials (“leukemia, cancer, genetic mutations, and death”), how radiation gets into the environment from reactors, weapons plants, and nuclear waste, and how scientists generally believe “there is no safe dose.”[113] Another DAARE newsletter has a long explainer on radiation, including the types of particles, how radioactivity is measured, and the health risks of exposure, and concludes with an attack on the NRC for minimizing the dangers of reactor gas leaks at Commonwealth Edison’s Zion plant.[114] In addition, DAARE published excerpts from the US House of Representatives Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs report on nuclear accident fatalities and injuries at nuclear power plants, showing the estimated results of accidents at Illinois plants and demonstrating the government quantified the potential human cost of safety failures.[115] To illustrate the chances of a nuclear accident, SAFE reprinted an article from the Union of Concerned Scientists giving the probabilities of a core meltdown occurring in the US (10 percent prior to 1990; 23.5 percent before 2000).[116]

The activists also attempted to be creative. The front page of SAFE Passages (a short-lived name for SAFE’s newsletter) offers readers an allegorical story entitled “Tale of the greedy candlemaker” by Diane Moats. It is obvious that the “candle factory” with “two magical towers” refers to the Byron Station, while the “prosperous candlemaker” is Commonwealth Edison. The story describes the consequences of the new candle factory in the community: potential accidents, the need to be ready to evacuate, and the higher cost of candles.[117] In another example, a SAFE activist named Richard Bunch offered a short story about investigative hearings following an accident at the Byron Station.[118]

Clearly, truth was more useful than fiction. DAARE and SAFE made heavy use of the Three Mile Island incident to illustrating its potential dangers. Following the crisis, Three Mile Island became the centerpiece in the national debate over nuclear energy. Nationally, public support for nuclear energy fell in the wake of Three Mile Island, and with changing public opinion came congressmen calling for more regulation and more rigorous safety requirements. “The dual threat of a meltdown and an explosion at [Three Mile Island] unleased the fears that the industry and the government had tried to allay: power plants could behave like bombs.”[119] In addition, Three Mile Island also gave opportunities to make emotive appeals. SAFE’s May 1, 1979, newsletter featured a poem entitled “Three Mile Scream” imaging a father talking to his daughter during the crisis—the four uncertain days between March 27 and April 1 when the plant faced a potential meltdown—emphasizing the terror of a nuclear accident: “Daddy I’m scaired [sic]. When can we go? / I’m sorry little girl. (We all reap what they sow.)[120] DAARE pointed to past nuclear accidents to emphasize Three Mile Island was not the first nuclear accident.[121]

DAARE argued reforms in the wake of Three Mile Island, arguing did not go far enough. The October/November edition of “The Energy Times” published by DAARE summarized articles from periodicals like The New York Times and The Chicago Sun Times explaining the financial costs of Three Mile Island, the shortcomings of the Kemeny Commission, and emphasizing underreported issues such as the internal debates over a moratorium on nuclear plants within the Carter administration.[122] On November 1, 1979, DAARE hosted an event on the campus of Northern Illinois University with Rosalie Bertell, PhD, a scientist and environmental activist, critical of the government’s response to Three Mile Island.[123]

Following Three Mile Island, NRC and industry spokesmen asserted Three Mile Island was proof that plant safety systems were effective.[124] Commonwealth Edison ran advertisements minimizing the incident and assuring the public nuclear plants were safe. In response, for the next several years DAARE and SAFE revisited Three Mile Island around the event’s anniversary date. In March 1980, the DAARE newsletter reported amounts of radiation released by Three Mile Island (without indicating the sources for this information), stating the plant continued to leak “70 to 80 curies per month” of radioactive gas and the accident involved “8 to 20 million curies of radioactive gases” being discharged.[125] That same month, SAFE’s newsletter reported the results from “a 48-page study by Dr. E.J. Sternglass of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School” that showed a “630% increase in the number of newborn deaths in Harrisburgh [sic]” in the first quarter of 1980 compared to the same periods in the prior two years.[126] In April 1980, DAARE ran an article describing the human cost of the “disaster” which was gleaned from watching national TV news coverage of local protests and hearings. The writer describes Harrisburg residents “crying, pleading, trembling with rage, attempting to make impassive nuclear bureaucrats understand what it’s like to have a nuclear accident in the neighborhood” and asserting “the pipedream of nuclear powered [sic] progress has turned into an ugly struggle for survival”.[127] On the second anniversary of Three Mile Island, SAFE published a report from a veterinarian reporting birth defects in cattle herds in the counties near the plant.[128]

  1. Undermining Commonwealth Edison’s Organizational Competence

Another theme in the activists’ communications involved questioning Commonwealth Edison’s organizational competence. The utility was a pioneer in nuclear power and worked closely with the AEC and NRC in developing the industry. Given the battle over the Byron Station, DAARE and SAFE attempted to undermine the utility’s reputation, but in doing this they also attacked on the managerial, technocratic state for granting that “inept corporation” with a nuclear franchise.

“Commonwealth Edison has neither the money nor the skill to operate the Byron plant safely” declares a SAFE fundraising letter. “The record clearly shows that Commonwealth Edison does not have the technical skills, the management skills or the money to operate the plant in a way that will protect the public health and safety.” The mailer goes on to criticize Commonwealth Edison’s poor evacuation plan, lack of emergency planning, and lists potential design flaws at the Byron Station (zirconium cladded fuel rods, risk of hydrogen explosion like Three Mile Island, water hammer problems, steam tube issues).[129]

DAARE and SAFE also used their newsletters to criticize Commonwealth Edison, acting as “watchdogs” and publicizing any news that would cast the utility in a bad light. The organizations’ low opinion of the company was also reflected in its contentions in the ASLB process which questioned “the competence and integrity of Commonwealth Edison to protect the health and safety of the public…demonstrated time and again over the years by its inability or unwillingness to operate its nuclear power stations within federal regulations.”[130] The groups highlighted any NRC fine placed on Commonwealth Edison for a compliance violation, no matter how minor (“Last June Commonwealth Edison was fined $25,000 for a security lapse at the Byron Plant in February.”)[131] In another example, a newsletter attacked Commonwealth Edison’s 1979 advertisements promoting inexpensive nuclear energy as “self-serving lies” that overstated the abundance of uranium.[132]

In addition, Commonwealth Edison’s management was criticized for not taking the dangers of nuclear energy seriously enough. DAARE pointed to the NRC assigning “below average” safety ratings to five Commonwealth Edison nuclear plants, adding “the probability-conscious insurance industry” refused to ensure its plants (or any nuclear plant) “because of the widespread devastation a nuclear incident would cause.”[133] Another example is a DAARE pamphlet entitled “Commonwealth Edison…Working for You?” which attacks the utility for operating dangerous nuclear plants, gouging the public through increased electricity costs, and hurting local employment by favoring nuclear power over conservation efforts and solar power. The pamphlet concludes with an appeal to write elected officials, listing the addresses of the State Senator and State Representatives from DeKalb County.[134]

In yet another type of attack, DAARE and SAFE capitalized on numerous rate increases Commonwealth Edison sought from the ICC. The groups attempted to stir public opposition to rate hikes, drumming up attendance at ICC public hearings to register objections. Pamphlets and newsletter articles typically pointed to organizational incompetence as the main reason Commonwealth Edison needed to raise the price of electricity. For example, after the ICC granted a 14% “rate hike” in February 1980, DAARE seized on comments made by the ICC about the need for Commonwealth Edison to remain viable in the face of higher operating costs. “Com Ed is in trouble because of mismanagement. The company’s decision to build more nuclear plants than it could ever need is the reason for the trouble it finds itself in.” DAARE called for the ICC to order a halt to nuclear plant construction and “force a shake-up of the Com Ed management” so they would “bear responsibility for their stupid blunders”.[135] As the NRC intervention came to an end, SAFE appears to be far more active in opposing Commonwealth Edison at the ICC. SAFE takes credit for delaying a portion of an ICC rate increase in early 1984, proclaiming, “I’m afraid the [Commonwealth Edison] stockholders won’t be getting a raise in their dividend payments.”[136] It is important to note public opposition to rate hikes had real consequences for Commonwealth Edison. Besides not always receiving requested rate increases, the ICC also investigated the necessity of Commonwealth Edison’s nuclear plant construction projects in response to accusations that the company overstated future electrical demand. However, the ICC investigations found in favor of Commonwealth Edison.[137]

Finally, another theme was characterizing Commonwealth Edison’s nuclear plants as financial boondoggles. The groups pointed to the numerous construction delays and cost increases at Byron, Braidwood, and LaSalle as evidence of bad management. Other communications questioned Commonwealth Edison’s basic understanding of its own business when it was overbuilding electrical supply capacity with new nuclear plants. In another example that takes an unconventional position from an environmentalist standpoint, a DAARE newsletter from 1980 had a long essay arguing Commonwealth Edison could shut down its nuclear plans and still provide sufficient electrical supply to Illinois because it “would simply have to crank up its coal and oil plants.”[138]

  1. Nuclear Energy as Right-Wing Policy

DAARE and SAFE portrayed US nuclear energy policy as an aspect of the American right-wing, associated with nationalism, militarism, and anti-communism. The conservative political re-alignment referred to as the “Reagan Revolution” arrived amid the efforts of DAARE and SAFE to stop Byron. The national zeitgeist turned toward the right.[139] Of equal importance, the 16th Congressional District of Illinois (covering Ogle, Winnebago, DeKalb, and portions of adjacent countries) was solidly Republican, represented in Congress by John Anderson (who made a third party run for president in 1980 on a more moderate platform than Reagan’s) followed by Lynn Martin (who would later serve as Secretary of Labor in the Bush Administration).

Moreover, the Reagan Administration aimed at revitalizing the technocratic, managerial state policies to support commercial nuclear energy. Supportive policies toward the nuclear energy industry were part of the GOP platform. Starting in 1981, the Reagan Administration tried to resuscitate nuclear energy as the industry struggled with high construction costs and the repercussions of Three Mile Island. In the words of historian James W. Feldman:

Reagan sought to renew the nuclear consensus—once again linking economic and political freedoms both at home and abroad to a strong economy and an expanded military with an enhanced nuclear arsenal. Reagan identified two threats to freedom and progress: an overreaching government that stifled American economic development and a totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union. Nuclear energy could counter both threats.[140]

Consequently, both DAARE and SAFE took rhetorical aim at the Reagan Administration.

One SAFE newsletter responded to the administration’s nuclear energy policy, calling it “ill conceived [sic] and misleading” and “bailing out the ailing nuclear power industry”, arguing it would strain the federal budget and take resources from “vital social programs”, expose the environment to radioactive contamination, and increase the chances that “nuclear weapons could be obtained by irresponsible nations or terrorists.”[141] In addition, the newsletters’ editorial choices in the clipped articles, op-eds, and political cartoons from other newspapers and magazines were frequently anti-Reagan and anti-Republican.

While opposing nuclear energy, DAARE and SAFE also supported the peace movement, opposing nuclear weapons, US military programs and spending, and President Reagan’s hawkish foreign policy. Nearly every newsletter referenced alignment with the peace movement, whether in articles written by DAARE or SAFE activists, jointly sponsored events, clipped newspaper articles and political cartoons, or advertisements promoting peace activist meetings and events. In this respect, DAARE and SAFE weighed in on contemporary debates over MX missile program, El Salvador, and military research projects.[142] SAFE’s Fall 1982 newsletter was almost entirely devoted to disarmament, featuring educational articles detailing the number of nuclear weapons held by the US and the USSR, a commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a celebration the Rockford City Council’s call for disarmament, and an essay claiming the Reagan Administration was bringing back the draft.[143]

In addition, the peace and antinuclear causes often overlapped. for example, a SAFE newsletter reported “the Reagan White House will be calling for 14,000 to 17,000 addition [sic] warheads” proving “the government’s desire to transform nuclear power plants into ‘bomb factories’” by using spent fuel to produce plutonium-239.[144] In addition, the groups routinely joined antinuclear weapon protests coordinated with other activists.[145] In 1980, DAARE worked with other local groups on “Energy for Peace Week” to promote the “relationship between the energy path we choose and the prospects for peace in the world.” Overall, the event was aimed at promoting renewable energy and emphasizing the link between oil, coal, and uranium with war: “We know these to be the fuels that lend themselves to the politics of monopoly and control, deprivation and war. We also know that we will see no end to the Vietnams and Afghanistans if we continue down this path.” Several events were planned for the week, including an anti-Byron benefit concert, film screenings, lectures, and speeches from Ralph Nader and nuclear physicist Michio Kaku.[146]

Aside from national politics, DAARE and SAFE leadership knew the Byron Station had local community support and enthusiastic backing from local politicians. Granted, the GOP’s national platform supported nuclear energy; however, the promise of more jobs and higher tax revenues likely drove local support for the nuclear plant. As building progressed, the City of Byron and Ogle County received additional property and sales tax revenues, increased local employment, and funded dramatic improvements to municipal services. Byron’s mayor, Lyle Blanchard, stated that if the town’s 2,200 residents were invited to a protest, “I don’t think you’d get 10 people.”[147] Given their combative messaging on national politics, it was likely DAARE’s and SAFE’s leadership held the local Republicans who welcomed the Byron Station in disdain. Yet these kinds of criticisms are conspicuously absent in communications but for a few examples. For instance, in a newsletter discussing Three Mile Island, the article turns its attention to the local battle over the Byron Station: “It would seem wise for the growth-at-any-cost, pro-nuclear citizens and politicians of Byron, Oregon, DeKalb, and other communities near the Byron Nuclear Power Plant [sic] to talk to their counterparts in Middleton, Pa. Maybe a sense of human perspective would result; a new appreciation for the risks involved in having so much radiation created in their own backyard.”[148] Perhaps there was a fear that the criticism of Republican mayors and county commissions would reflect upon the citizens and alienate the community. As traditional activists, the shared goal of DAARE and SAFE was to persuade as many people as possible to their side.

It is important to note that in the early 1980s antinuclear activism was not solely confined to progressives and environmentalists. Natasha Zaretsky’s Radiation Nation: Three Mile Island and the Political Transformation of the 1970s describes a cultural conservative reaction to Three Mile Island, demonstrating nuclear energy had the potential to be a “horseshoe issue” where political constituencies with opposing ideologies reach similar conclusions.[149] Similar to SAFE and DAARE, conservative Three Mile Island activists blamed the NRC and other government agencies for imperiling their communities and showing indifference to their health.


Americans have an ambiguous relationship with nuclear technology. On one hand there is a recognition of a human scientic achievement that brings ample, necessary, and relatively clean electrical power. On the other hand there are many reasons for fear: lethal application in weapons, potentially devastating accidents, and the long-term environmental risk of nuclear waste. Contrary to political myths, commercial nuclear energy was not the product of Hayekian spontaneous order emerging from free markets. Rather the US nuclear industry’s founding and expansion was made possible by the US government pursuing a managerial, technocratic agenda. In turn, when a nuclear plant was underway in rural Ogle County, activists in Rockford and DeKalb did not just oppose a nuclear power plant and a utility corporation; they reacted to those federal policies and programs that made enabled the entire undertaking.

Despite the efforts of DAARE and SAFE, public opinion in northern Illinois during the mid-1980s did not turn against the Byron Station, Commonwealth Edison, or nuclear power. Perhaps SAFE and DAARE were enthusiastic but amateurish, taking a “shotgun” approach that lacked both funds and bodies. Or perhaps the political culture of northern Illinois was impenetrable to progressive causes like the “No Nukes” movement. Nonetheless, their efforts give us a clearer line of site into the managerial, technocratic state that developed the commercial nuclear energy industry. Their rhetorical attacks against the NRC, nuclear plant safety, Commonwealth Edison, and the Reagan Administration (plus many other topics) both educated and alerted the public to a common element: the managerial, technocratic state that created the commercial nuclear energy industry and continued to serve as its partner. The sheer amount of time and the immense effort needed to participate in the ASLB process—ostensibly open to the public—reveals a technocratic government largely closed to its citizenry but open to a focused, sophisticated, and monied elite.

Following the victory in the Byron Station’s ASLB licensure hearing, the Rockford Register Star ran an article featuring SAFE’s Stanley Campbell, a Rockford native and lifelong activist. Campbell left his job as medical dispatcher so he could devote more time to SAFE’s legal battle against the Byron Station. Prior to founding SAFE, he ran a community food bank and counseled conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War. The article refers to him as a “modern-day Don Quixote” but, to the activists like Campbell, nuclear power was not one of Quixote’s imagined giants. In discussing the ASLB process, Campbell says, “I honestly felt there would be a complete denial of our charges, that we might be completely ignored and be booted out as intervenors, not because of the evidence we compiled but because of the historic precedent it would set” (emphasis added).[150] Campbell saw the hand of the managerial, technocratic state in the nuclear power industry—making the fission reactor possible, guiding corporations like Westinghouse and Commonwealth Edison into commercial nuclear power, and ensuring the Byron Station would open. SAFE and DAARE were not surprised about the ultimate outcome of this ideological contest. Campbell and others had always maintained that taking on the US government and its corporate allies could only delay the Byron Station’s opening. Apart from the technocratic intervention, activist movements depended upon swaying local public opinion against nuclear power. Facing a conservative rural community, DAARE and SAFE failed to evoke popular opposition to the Byron Station.

Nevertheless, commercial nuclear power was heading for a hiatus prior to the Chernobyl disaster because the nuclear energy failed in its most crucial aspect: It was malinvestment. It failed as a capitalist experiment despite the managerial, technocratic state’s policies under the nuclear consensus: sharing intellectual property, providing cheap uranium, offering a collaborative regulatory environment, and paying direct financial subsidies. Construction permits for nuclear plants fell from a peak of ninety permits in 1979 to only eight in 1990.[151] Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant finally opened in 1990 after more than 20 years of planning, construction, licensing hearings, and activist protest; in the meantime, its owner Public Service Company of New Hampshire filed for bankruptcy, leading one of its executives to declare, “There must be a better way.”[152] Even worse was Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. Completed in 1992 for a cost of over $6 billion, “the plant was decommissioned without ever producing a single kilowatt” because evacuation plans for nearby Long Island communities were unworkable.[153] For the nuclear plants already open and operating, the utilities that owned them had little choice but to maximize profits until plants had to be mothballed. Otherwise, aging nuclear plants were sunk costs that promised future liabilities given the costs of decommissioning plants and addressing the long-term storage of their nuclear waste. By the late 1990s, nuclear plants in the US were on a road to extinction.

Subsequently, DAARE and SAFE eventually disbanded, as did most other antinuclear activist groups. Commonwealth Edison merged with another utility to form Exelon Corporation, today a $36 billion energy company serving four major metropolitan areas. In 2020, Exelon announced the Byron Station would be decommissioned after 35 years. This news was met with immediate local outcry. Soon after there was a legislative effort to make a deal with Exelon to keep the plant open. Once again, the hand of government helped commercial nuclear energy. This time it was the State of Illinois, approving $700 million in subsidies to Exelon in exchange for a commitment to keep the Byron Station and the Dresden plant open. Exelon reversed its decision to close the plants.[154]

Finally, debates over nuclear energy are returning. Geopolitics continues to cause governments to re-evaluate energy policies, as evidenced by the recent crisis caused by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine. Climate change has triggered many kinds of ideological contests, including a split among environmentalists on the role nuclear power could play as a means of mitigating climate change. Nuclear power is bound to be an area of controversy as the international community develops economic and regulatory policy responses to climate change, perhaps especially so in the United States given its massive energy consumption. Could the US return to nuclear energy as a technocratic solution to climate change? In what may be a sign of things to come, in 2016 the Tennessee Valley Authority brought a second reactor online at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant—the first new reactor in the US in 20 years.[155] According to the NRC’s website, as of October 2021 there were active applications and approved licenses for 15 new reactors at 10 nuclear plants.[156]


Primary Sources: Archive Materials

  • DeKalb Area Alliance for Responsible Energy/Sinnissippi Alliance for the Environment Collection, Collection 212. Regional History Center, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois.
  • Paul Holmbeck, “Nuclear Interveners and the Challenge to Corporate Decision-Making,” Honors Thesis, Northern Illinois University, Spring 1984, Collection 212, Box 41.

Primary Sources: Newspapers and Periodicals

Primary Sources: Government, Corporate, and Nonprofit Organization Documents

  • Commonwealth Edison Company. 1975 Annual Report, December 31, 1975.
  • Commonwealth Edison Company. 1976 Annual Report, December 31, 1976.
  • Commonwealth Edison Company. 1978 Annual Report, December 31, 1978.
  • Commonwealth Edison Company. 1983 Annual Report, December 31, 1983.
  • Commonwealth Edison Company. 1984 Annual Report, December 31, 1984.
  • Commonwealth Edison Company. 1985 Annual Report, December 31, 1985.
  • Commonwealth Edison Company. Byron Station Emergency Plan Annex. Commonwealth Edison Company, Chicago, Illinois 1986.
  • Commonwealth Edison Company. Byron Station Environmental Report. Commonwealth Edison Company, Chicago, Illinois 1973.
  • Daubert, Victoria, and Sue Ellen Moran. “Origins, goals, and tactics of the US antinuclear protest movement.” Vol. 2192. Rand Corporation, 1985.
  • Illinois Commission on Atomic Energy, Ad-Hoc Nuclear Power Reactor Safety Review Committee. Nuclear Power Reactor Safety in Illinois: A Report to the Honorable James Thompson, Governor of the State of Illinois. Illinois Commission on Atomic Energy, Springfield, Illinois 1979.
  • Illinois General Assembly, House of Representatives, Republican Staff. Illinois and Nuclear Energy: House Republican Committee Staff Report. Springfield, Illinois 1978.
  • Illinois League of Women Voters. Illinois, A Pioneer in Nuclear Energy. League of Women Voters of Illinois Education Fund, Chicago, Illinois 1981.
  • In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company (Byron Station, Units 1 and 2). LBP-74-87, (1974).
  • In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company (Byron Station, Units 1 and 2). LBP-75-64, (1975).
  • In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company (Byron Station, Units 1 and 2). LBP-84-2, 19 NRC 36 (1975).
  • In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company Byron Station, Units 1 and 2. Docket Nos. 50-454 OL and 50-455 OL (Initial Decision, January 13, 1984).
  • In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company Byron Station, Units 1 and 2, 19 NRC 1163 (1984).
  • “Nuclear Power in Illinois: Proceedings of the Third Annual Illinois Energy Conference.” Chicago: Office of Publications Services of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, 1975.
  • S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Byron Generating Station, Units 1 and 2: Braidwood Generating Station, Units 1 and 2: FSAR Amendment 46, NRC docket nos. 50-454/455 and 50-456/457. Chicago: Commonwealth Edison Company, 1985.

Secondary Sources

  • Balogh, Brian. Chain Reaction: Expert Debate and Public Participation in American Commercial Nuclear Power, 1945-1975. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Brown, Kathryn L. Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Block, Fred. “Swimming Against the Current: The Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the United States.” Politics and Society 36: 2, (2008): 174–5.
  • Hoffman, Steven M., and John Byrne, ed. Governing the Atom: The Politics of Risk. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 1996.
  • Hogan, John T. A Spirit Capable: The Story of Commonwealth Edison. Chicago: Mobium Press, 1986.
  • Cook, Earl. “The Role of History in the Acceptance of Nuclear Power.” Social Science Quarterly 63, no. 1 (1982): 3–15.
  • Dixit, Avinash K., and Robert S. Pindyck. Investment Under Uncertainty. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Falk, Jim. Global Fission: The Battle Over Nuclear Power. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Feldman, James W., ed. Nuclear Reactions: Documenting American Encounters with Nuclear Energy. University of Washington Press, 2017.
  • Giugni, Marco. Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.
  • Giugni, Marco. “Useless protest? A time-series analysis of the policy outcomes of ecology, antinuclear, and peace movements in the United States, 1977-1995.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 12, no. 1 (2007): 53-77.
  • Gonzalez, George A. Energy and Empire: The Politics of Nuclear and Solar Power in the United States. Ithaca: State University of New York Press, 2012.
  • Hamblin, Jacob Darwin. The Wretched Atom: America’s Global Gamble with Peaceful Nuclear Technology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.
  • Jasper, James M. Nuclear Politics: Energy and the State in the United States, Sweden, and France. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Kolb, Felix. Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements. Campus Verlag, 2007.
  • Price, Jerome. The Antinuclear Movement. Twayne Publishers, 1990.
  • Rahman, K. Sabeel. “Transcending the New Deal Idea of the State: Managerialism, Neoliberalism, and Democracy.” In Capitalism Contested: The New Deal and Its Legacies, edited by Romain Huret, Nelson Lichtenstein, and Jean-Christian Vinel, 19–41. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020.
  • Rucht, Dieter. “Campaigns, skirmishes and battles: antinuclear movements in the USA, France and West Germany.” Industrial Crisis Quarterly 4, no. 3 (1990): 193-222.
  • Seaborg, Glenn Theodore, and Benjamin S. Loeb. The Atomic Energy Commission Under Nixon: Adjusting to Troubled Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
  • Walker, J. Samuel. Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
  • Weart, Spencer R. The Rise of Nuclear Fear. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.
  • Wellock, Thomas R. “Stick It in L.A.! Community Control and Nuclear Power in California’s Central Valley.” The Journal of American History 84, no. 3 (1997): 942–78.
  • Wills, John. Conservation Fallout: Nuclear Protest at Diablo Canyon. Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 2012.
  • Zaretsky, Natasha. Radiation Nation: Three Mile Island and the Political Transformation of the 1970s. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.

[1] John T. Hogan, A Spirit Capable: The Story of Commonwealth Edison, (Chicago: Mobium Press, 1986), 442.

[2] “Because You’re Stupid,” Apple Music, track 7 on Bright Morning Star, Sweet and Sour, Rounder Records, 1988.

[3] Research for this post focused on the inventory of the DeKalb Area Alliance for Responsible Energy and the Sinnissippi Alliance for the Environment stored in the Northern Illinois Regional History Center (Collection 212) at Northern Illinois University’s Founders Memorial Library. Collection 212 is comprised of 46 containers in 34.5 feet of shelf space containing “[t]he DAARE/SAFE records date from 1969 to 2008 and consists of material created, researched, and collected by the two organizations during their legal battle with CommonwealthEdison [sic] and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Staff contesting the issuing of an NRCoperating [sic] license for the Byron Nuclear Plant.” DeKalb Area Alliance for Responsible Energy /Sinnissippi Alliance for the Environment   Collection, Collection 212. Regional History Center, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois. In addition to the legal records from the Byron lawsuit and communications created by the activists running DAARE and SAFE, Collection 212 also contains a wide array of materials on other activist groups, nuclear power, and the environment collected by DAARE and SAFE over their many years of operations. This post does not attempt to provide a comprehensive history of DAARE and SAFE. DAARE, SAFE and the individuals that ran the organizations may be worthy of further study by historians compiling social and cultural histories involving the antinuclear movement, nuclear energy in Illinois, and local histories of DeKalb and Rockford.

[4] Public utilities provide services to the public and are considered common carriers under most US state laws. Rates charged by public utilities are state regulated. In addition, often public utilities are exempted from state antitrust laws. The treatment and classification of public utilities varies by state law. In Illinois, the Public Utilities Act (220 ILCS 5 §3-105) provides the following definition:

“Public utility” means and includes, except where otherwise expressly provided in this Section, every corporation, company, limited liability company, association, joint stock company or association, firm, partnership or individual, their lessees, trustees, or receivers appointed by any court whatsoever that owns, controls, operates or manages, within this State, directly or indirectly, for public use, any plant, equipment or property used or to be used for or in connection with, or owns or controls any franchise, license, permit or right to engage in:

(1) the production, storage, transmission, sale, delivery or furnishing of heat, cold, power, electricity, water, or light, except when used solely for communications purposes;

(2) the disposal of sewerage; or

(3) the conveyance of oil or gas by pipe line.

[5] “The Federal agency (known as the AEC), which was created in 1946 to manage the development, use, and control of atomic (nuclear) energy for military and civilian applications. The AEC was subsequently abolished by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 and succeeded by the Energy Research and Development Administration (now part of the U.S. Department of Energy) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” For more information, the USNRC website:

[6] See Sabeel K. Rahman, “Transcending the New Deal Idea of the State: Managerialism, Neoliberalism, and Democracy,” in Capitalism Contested: The New Deal and Its Legacies, Romain Huret, Nelson Lichtenstein, and Jean-Christian Vinel, ed., (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020), 19–41. Fred Block, “Swimming Against the Current: The Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the United States,” Politics and Society 36: 2 (2008), 174–5.

[7] Spencer R. Weart, The Rise of Nuclear Fear, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 60, 92-93, 190-193.

[8] James W. Feldman argues that three “vital and contentious elements of postwar American life” further complicated how Americans understood the issue of nuclear power: “changing relationships with nature, questions about the shape of civil society, and debates about the meaning of progress.”  See James W. Feldman, ed., Nuclear Reactions: Documenting American Encounters with Nuclear Energy, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 4-8.

[9] The international relations history of nuclear technology is beyond the subject of this post, but it is worth noting historians have offered differing interpretations of Atoms for Peace. To James W. Feldman, Atoms for Peace was simply an outcome of the nuclear consensus stemming from NSC-68, a National Security Council policy paper that “neatly tied together the need for a permanent military, a large nuclear arsenal, a policy of containment in response to communism, and American economic expansion.” Spencer R. Weart emphasizes the US as both industry booster and Cold War combatant, arguing Atoms for Peace aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons by ensuring finite supplies of plutonium would go into power plants rather than fission weapons. However, Jacob Darwin Hamblin’s recent work highlights the policy’s “cornucopian vision” but emphasizes the true purpose of the program was to ensure access to continued resource extraction from former colonies. See Feldman, 8-9; Weart, 83-85; Jacob Darwin Hamblin, The Wretched Atom: America’s Global Gamble with Peaceful Nuclear Technology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021) 1-10.

[10] Lewis L. Strauss, “My Faith in the Atomic Future,” in Nuclear Reactions: Documenting American Encounters with Nuclear Energy, ed. by James W. Feldman (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 81-85.

[11] Increasing US access to uranium ended up being one of the AEC’s major achievements. From 80 tons in 1948, domestic production grew to 17,000 tons by 1959. By the 1970s, world exploration revealed “vast reserves” of mineable uranium so that its supply far exceeded demand. See Glenn Theodore Seaborg and Benjamin S. Loeb, The Atomic Energy Commission Under Nixon: Adjusting to Troubled Times, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 187.

[12] Hogan, 243-262. Note that an interesting aspect of this program involved using the design of the nuclear plants from the US Navy’s aircraft carriers: Westinghouse built an experimental 72,000-kilowatt nuclear plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania which used highly enriched uranium (i.e., weapons grade, both expensive and problematic from a security perspective). Ship-based nuclear reactors also emphasized compactness which was not a goal for land-based reactors.

[13] Hogan, 263-274.

[14] The AEC’s Brookhaven study group estimated a nuclear reactor accident near a populated area would kill at least 3,000 people immediately and cause $7 billion in damage. Weart, 170.

[15] The inability to obtain insurance was an existential threat to commercial nuclear energy. Utilities like Commonwealth Edison that owned nuclear plants would be exposed to the potential financial liabilities in the case of a nuclear accident, potentially ruining the company. This made a utility’s stockholders, bondholders, and lenders adverse to financing nuclear projects, and the industry could not exist without private sources of financing. Cecilia Martinez and John Byrne, “Science, Society and the State: The Nuclear Project and the Transformation of the American Political Economy,” in Steven M. Hoffman and John Byrne, ed., Governing the Atom: The Politics of Risk, (New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 89-91.

[16] In 1957 the Illinois General Assembly passed laws requiring technologies using radioactive materials must register with the State Health Department and extended the worker’s compensation program to industries using nuclear technology. The Radiation Protection Act followed in 1959 empowering the State Health Department to “license and regulate” any use of nuclear technology not already reserved to the AEC. Illinois General Assembly, House of Representatives, Republican Staff, Illinois and Nuclear Energy: House Republican Committee Staff Report, Springfield, Illinois 1978, 3-6.

[17] Illinois: Discontinuance of Certain Regulatory Authority and Responsibility Within the State, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, May 14, 1987, special/regs/il_frnagreements.pdf.

[18] Illinois passed a law in 1963 to fund and oversee nuclear waste storage facilities in the state, opening the Sheffield site for low level waste, and eventually the Morris site, a spent fuel storage facility in repurposed General Electric processing plant. Furthermore, perhaps as a form of “quid pro quo” for its nuclear-friendly environment, the AEC itself made significant investments in laboratories and research facilities in Illinois during the 1960s ($682 million by 1970). Illinois General Assembly, 7-12.

[19] Ronald Kotulak, “Nuclear Power Makes Illinois Rich in Electricity,” Chicago Tribune (December 16, 1973), 12.

[20] Illinois and Nuclear Energy, 6-22; Illinois League of Women Voters, Illinois, A Pioneer in Nuclear Energy. League of Women Voters of Illinois Education Fund (Chicago, Illinois 1981).

[21] With the mandate to grow commercial nuclear power, the AEC merely provided “exhortation and optimism” about the future of nuclear energy, convincing the two leading builders of nuclear plants (General Electric and Westinghouse) to invest millions in prototype, “turnkey” reactors that could be sold to utilities at a fixed cost. While this business strategy led to more orders for nuclear plants, General Electric and Westinghouse lost a combined $1 billion dollars on turnkey deals, forcing them to move to design and manufacturing contracts based on actual costs. James M. Jasper, “Nuclear Policy as Projection: How Policy Choices Can Create Their Own Justification,” in Steven M. Hoffman and John Byrne, ed., Governing the Atom: The Politics of Risk, (New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 47-55.

[22] J. Samuel Walker, Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 5-7.

[23] There were many internal issues at the AEC. For example, AEC scientists could not agree on safety standards nor the amount to invest in safety research. In addition, utilities wanted the AEC to process building and operating permits more quickly, as construction applications averaged 22 months and operating licenses averaged 42 months. Finally, the AEC suffered a setback in the Calvert Cliff Coordinating Committee v. AEC decision where it was ordered to begin assessing the potential environmental impact of nuclear plants in its licensing process (this is further discussed in Part III). James M. Jasper, Nuclear Politics: Energy and the State in the United States, Sweden, and France (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1990), 46-60.

[24] Jasper, 114-120.

[25] Walker, 7-17; Seaborg and Loeb, 117-119, 211-233, 249-250.

[26] Jasper, 59-60; “Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress Reporting on the State of the Union, January 15, 1975, The American Presidency Project, accessed April 30, 2022,

[27] Kotulak, 12; Hogan, 329.

[28] Hogan, 360.

[29] Throughout the 1970s and 1980s federal approvals under the ASLB involved two major steps: first, an authorization to build the plant; second, the issuance of a 40-year license to operate the plant. However, nuclear plant approval processes at the local and state level varied by jurisdiction. In Illinois, the ICC had authority over new utility power plants.

[30] Delving into the administrative law governing the ASLB process (an “Article II” or Executive Branch judicial body) is beyond the scope of this post. Note, however, the ASLB issued several “partial approvals” for construction during Byron Station’s pre-building development process. The site plan and environmental impact was approved by the ASLB on December 6, 1974, and the foundation and site work to build the plant were approved on October 29, 1975. These decisions reveal details about the ASLB process revealing the technical nature of the approval process. Furthermore, the public hearing for Byron occurred on September 4, 1974, at the Winnebago County Courthouse in Rockford where two people made an appearance to ask questions regarding the proposed nuclear plant. In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company (Byron Station, Units 1 and 2), LBP-74-87, (1974); In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company (Byron Station, Units 1 and 2), LBP-75-64, (1975).

[31] “Edison Gets Approval for 2 Nuclear Plants,” Chicago Tribune (January 3, 1976), historical-newspapers/edison-gets-approval-2-nuclear-plants/docview/171284245/se-2?accountid=12846.

[32] Commonwealth Edison Company, Byron Station Environmental Report, (Chicago: Commonwealth Edison Company, 1973), section

[33] A net present value analysis estimates the monetary value of a project as of the date of the analysis. The analysis projects potential cash flows (CF) over the life of a project (t) based on a set of assumptions, including upfront investment costs and projected operating income, which are discounted by a rate of return (i):

\displaystyle FMV=\frac{CF_t}{(1+i)^t}

In the Byron analysis, Commonwealth Edison used a 30-year project life and a 10% discount rate.

[34] Building the new nuclear plant was assumed to stimulate local employment, adding 1,500 workers, 40% of which would be local. Furthermore, the ongoing operation would employ 200 workers. The report estimated the employment impact would bring new income to Ogle County with a present value of $90.3 million. In addition, the plant would generate tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments at a present value of $263.4 million—including $2.3 million per year in local taxes. Byron Station Environmental Report, section 11.1.1.

[35] Commonwealth Edison addressed the topic of nuclear waste in its 1975 annual report to shareholders, minimizing the issue: a million-kilowatt reactor produces “only around three cubic yards of high-level radioactive wastes” in a year, which is “about the size of an ordinary household clothes closet.” Acknowledging the inevitability that radioactive waste had to be placed in permanent storage, Commonwealth Edison looked to the US government for a solution: “There is plenty of time for the federal government to decide on the best method for permanent disposal and to demonstrate its safety.” Commonwealth Edison Company, 1975 Annual Report, December 31, 1975, 7.

[36] By the end of 1973 the company estimated capital expenditures of $4.9 billion for Byron, Braidwood, and completing Morris and LaSalle. “Edison Sets Issue to Raise Capital for Expansion Plans,” Chicago Tribune (January 10, 1974), historical-newspapers/edison-sets-issue-raise-capital-expansion-plans/docview/171032203/se-2?accountid=12846.

[37] Company financial statements for fiscal years 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1978 (disclosed in Commonwealth Edison Company’s Annual Reports).

[38] Substitute sources of energy (i.e., power plants fueled by natural gas, oil, and coal) also complicated the analysis, as falling fossil fuel prices would make returns on investment in nuclear plants less attractive. Note that there is academic financial literature on analyzing investments where upfront costs are more uncertain than potential future payouts. This literature alludes to nuclear power plants as an example and offers mathematical models to better quantify the financial analysis. See Avinash K. Dixit and Robert S. Pindyck, Investment Under Uncertainty, (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1994), 345-351.

[39] While it would take years to complete the plant, this demonstrates the scale of the opportunity in terms of then-current financial performance. The analysis assumes the average annual “Net Value” of $18.6 roughly equates to Commonwealth Edison’s net income from the Byron Station. Commonwealth Edison’s net income was $180 million in 1974 and $207 million in 1975.

[40] In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company (Byron Station, Units 1 and 2), LBP-84-2, 19 NRC 36 (1975), at 1. Note that the application was actually for two licenses (one for each reactor); however, contemporary news reports, newsletters, correspondence, and other documents refer to a “license” or “operating license” relative to the Byron Station.

[41] In the early ‘70s, Illinois electrical capacity had been projected to expand by 7.1% per year from 1975-1985. However, the Energy Crisis resulted in widespread societal efforts to conserve energy. Furthermore, while economic growth brought greater demand for electricity, economic contractions like the 1973-1975 recession lowered that demand. Thus, the Byron Station project got underway after years of growing demand for electricity in Illinois (6% per year), only to see that demand fall to negative .68% in 1974. Demand in Illinois recovered in 1975, but growth was at a diminished rate of 4%. There were also viable alternatives to nuclear power in Illinois. Coal and fuel plants remained operational and could be built more quickly and more cheaply than a nuclear plant, so falling commodity prices made those options more attractive for electrical generation. In addition, it was unlikely electricity would be used for heating given plentiful natural gas resources in Illinois. Robert J. Podlasek, “Illinois Electrical Energy Supplies and Needs, 1975-1985” in Nuclear Power in Illinois: Proceedings of the Third Annual Illinois Energy Conference, (Chicago: Office of Publications Services of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, 1975), 19-25.

[42] Hogan, 439; Thomas Maier, “A-Plant Woes Bode Rate Hikes,” Chicago Sun-Times (April 2, 1984), 6, 22. To make this estimation, the author used an inflation calculator for the US dollar from the website

[43] Energy Times, July-August 1980, DAARE, page 1, Collection 212, Box 1.

[44] See Steven M. Hoffman and John Byrne, ed., Governing the Atom: The Politics of Risk, (New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 11-20.

[45] George A. Gonzalez, Energy and Empire: The Politics of Nuclear and Solar Power in the United States, (Ithaca: State University of New York Press, 2012), 15, 22-32, 78-81.

[46] Weart, 168-169.

[47] Brian Balogh, Chain Reaction: Expert Debate and Public Participation in American Commercial Nuclear Power, 1945-1975, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 287-288.

[48] Marco Giugni, Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), 42-43.

[49] Initially, the position on nuclear energy was a divisive issue among environmentalists. For example, the Sierra Club internally fractured after the organization compromised with the utility Pacific Gas and Electric on the location of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, resulting in the formation of an organization with an uncompromising antinuclear agenda, the Friends of the Earth. Jasper, 109; Price, 49-51. See also a monograph about Diablo Canyon and the Sierra Club by John Wills, Conservation Fallout: Nuclear Protest at Diablo Canyon (Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 2012).

[50] Jasper, 120-121.

[51] Giugni, 43.

[52] Price, 6-20.

[53] Thomas R. Wellock, “Stick It in L.A.! Community Control and Nuclear Power in California’s Central Valley,” The Journal of American History 84, no. 3, (1997), 942–78.

[54] US government agencies responded to Three Mile Island by exploring enhanced oversight and more rigorous safety requirements. The Kemeny Commission, the independent investigative committee on Three Mile Island ordered by President Carter, made dozens of recommendations to improve nuclear plant safety and oversight. The commission had debated halting construction of plants but opted not to recommend such a moratorium. In response to the commission’s recommendations, political considerations in the face of the 1980 election year led President Carter “to find a middle ground” which kept nuclear power as an option while calling on the NRC to pause licensing nuclear plants until it could implement the new safety regulations recommended by the Kemeny Commission. The NRC began exploring the commission’s additional safety regulations as part of its licensing process and ongoing regulatory oversight, including mandated emergency evacuation plans (which DAARE and SAFE used to some effect). Meanwhile, the nuclear industry recognized the need to make more investment in plant safety and responded with the formation of a private oversight organization called the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators, organized to standardize safety procedures and operating practices across utilities and power stations. The Institute’s requirements were “sometimes even stricter than the increasingly draconian government safety regulations.” Weart, 222-223, 242-243. Walker, 209-225.

[55] An NIU undergraduate named Paul Holmbeck was a volunteer with SAFE. He was closely involved in the organization’s litigation efforts, particularly around researching issues related to emergency evacuation plans. Holmbeck was a political science major and opted to write his honors thesis on interventions in NRC nuclear licensing and includes interviews with principals Stanley Campbell and Diane Chavez from SAFE, legal counsel Jane Whicher, and Betty Johnson from the Rockford League of Women Votes, among others. His thesis is part of Collection 212. Paul Holmbeck, “Nuclear Interveners and the Challenge to Corporate Decision-Making,” Honors Thesis, Northern Illinois University, Spring 1984, 53-54, Collection 212, Box 41.

[56] “DAARE Statement of Purpose,” undated, Collection 212, Box 25.

[57] “D.A.A.R.E.’s Views on Nuclear Power,” undated, Collection 212, Box 25.

[58] A DAARE mailing list from 1987 reveals approximately 325 members, most of them residing in DeKalb. As a testament to its grassroots nature, newsletters like the “Energy Times” and other communications tended to vary in quality and clearly did not have access to personal computers until the mid-1980s. Newsletter production involved a process of photocopying, addressing, and mailing. Newsletters were typed but also had hand-written titles, corrections, notes, plus hand-drawn illustrations and photos, articles, and cartoons cut from other periodicals. Finally, DAARE pursued all manner of fundraising to support itself: membership dues, donations, fundraising social events, and selling antinuclear buttons, t-shirts, and bumper stickers. As of July 1980, A “Treasurer’s Report” from 1982 reveals $1,728.75 in annual income, $1,585.36 in expenses, with $1,209.14 reserved. Funding the litigation effort against Byron Station received far more financial support, raising $1,714.00 in 1982 and $7,662.74 in 1983 and spending nearly all funds by the end of 1983. Note that funds were provided directly to SAFE which directly managed the legal intervention. DAARE mailing list, undated, Collection 212, Box 25; “DAARE Treasurer’s Report,” November 17, 1982, Collection 212, Box 25; “Nuclear Intervention Fund Treasurer’s Report, November 17, 1982,” Collection 212, Box 25; “Nuclear Intervention Fund Annual Report 1983,” undated, Collection 212, Box 25.

[59] Curiously, SAFE began as a member-governed group, using “a modified consensus system” where organizational decisions were made by a 75% vote at monthly membership meetings, with each meeting led by a facilitator and no permanent officers except a treasurer. In 1981, SAFE changed its governance structure and moved to five “working committees” as general meetings of members become social events. At some point after that, SAFE took on a more traditional organizational structure, with Stanley Campbell and Diane Chavez playing key roles in the organization. SAFE Newsletter, July 4, 1978, Collection 212, Box 1; SAFE newsletter, September 1981, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[60] In 1982, SAFE had 300 members which grew to a list of 1,200 people by 1984—though it was unclear how many were actual dues-paying members. SAFE’s fundraising activities were similar to DAARE’s and included concerts at a Rockford venue called Charlotte’s Web (and a number of these events featured folk singer Charlie King and his band Bright Morning Star, mentioned in the introduction). SAFE was also modestly funded, frequently reporting its bank account balance and cash on hand of around $500 or less. It raised just over $2,500 in its first two years, nearly all of which was used in operating activities. The Intervention Fund was jointly funded with DAARE and appears to be the focus of fundraising efforts. A letter to the membership from early 1984 states “SAFE has over $400” and its Intervention Fund “has almost $900.” SAFE Income & Expenses 1978-79, Collection 212, Box 22; Stan Campbell Letter to SAFE Members, March 6, 1984, Collection 212, Box 1.

[61] SAFE provided a distillation of its approach to antinuclear activism: “There are 3 ways to fight something: violence, economic power, and by public opinion expressed in public action. From a purely practical standpoint…we feel violence is out…Likewise for economic power—no way can we buy out ComEd! That leaves the third option: ‘Winning the hearts and minds of the people.’” SAFE Newsletter, July 1979, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[62] DAARE Newsletter, January 1979, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[63] SAFE Newsletter, July 1979, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1. Note that the “National March on Washington” refers to the May 6, 1979, demonstration involving 200 activist groups and 70,000 people, with speeches from high-profile antinuclear advocates including Ralph Nader, Jane Fonda, and California Governor Jerry Brown. Victoria Daubert, and Sue Ellen Moran, “Origins, goals, and tactics of the US antinuclear protest movement,” (Vol. 2192, Rand Corporation, 1985), 65-66.

[64] A typical example was the “SAFE Energy Rally on May 24, 1980” started with music and lectures at the Sinnissippi Park Bandshell and was followed by a caravan to the Byron Station to release balloons to show “the drift of radiation in the event of a nuclear accident.” SAFE Newsletter, July 4, 1978, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1; Hogan, 390; SAFE press release, May 13, 1980, Collection 212, Box 1.

[65] In 1984, the groups received television and radio news coverage for the NRC intervention. However, while the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence itself, it is worth noting a study of the antinuclear protest movement by the Rand Corporation issued in March 1985 which makes no mention of DAARE or SAFE, nor any protest against the Byron Station. The Rand report studies antinuclear protest events between 1977 and 1983, documenting 154 antinuclear protests in the US. However, we should allow for the limitations imposed on contemporary research techniques, as the study’s sources were “open sources, primarily the press of the United States and other countries.” Sources for the study were likely limited to newspapers from major urban centers available nationally as well as national periodicals. See Daubert and Moran, 19-31, 48-92.

[66] DAARE Newsletter, October-November 1979, page 5, Collection 212, Box 1.

[67] For example, DAARE provided a letter to the US Department of Transportation opposing changes to the federal transportation regulations that would disregard local laws forbidding transport of radioactive materials. Marilyn Shineflug to Materials Transportation Bureau of the US Department of Transportation, 30 December 1978, Collection 212, Box 1.

[68] DAARE Newsletter, undated, Collection 212, Box 1. The reference to AG William Scott suggests the newsletter is from either 1978 or 1979.

[69] The Rockford League of Women’s Voters intervention in the Byron Station licensing process should be the subject of an entire research project. The League’s rationale for intervening was complicated. As an organization, the League’s members were not uniformly opposed to nuclear energy. In general, the concern over nuclear power was its newness and the many unknowns that came along with nuclear plants. The League took the position that the US should minimize its reliance on nuclear energy, but not entirely ban it. Furthermore, the League wanted operating license hearings to occur in Rockford and not the NRC’s headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, which relates to the League’s mission to build transparency and participation in democratic processes. In addition, the League brought considerable financial resources to the intervention effort. Because of the strict anti-nuclear stances of DAARE and SAFE, the League did not want to pool its resources with those groups. However, given its financial resources, the League was able to raise and defend a number of the same contentions as DAARE and SAFE plus dozens more. Betty Johnson, “Case for and against the Byron plant: ‘Is it safe?’,” Rockford Register Star (August 16, 1981), 15. Holmbeck Thesis, 48-53, Collection 212, Box 41.

[70] DAARE Newsletter, January 1979, page 4, Collection 212, Box 1.

[71] Holmbeck Thesis, 53-59, Collection 212, Box 41.

[72] Press Release, January 16, 1979, Collection 212, Box 5.

[73] Myron Karmen to ASLB Panel, 12 October 1979, Collection 212, Box 5.

[74] The first attorney engaged was Jerome Hughey (DAARE resolution, September 6, 1979, Collection 212, Box 5). Within six months another attorney (Kenneth K. Levin) replaced Hughey (Kenneth K. Levin to Axel Meyer, 14 February 1980, Collection 212, Box 1).

[75] Energy Times, January/February 1980, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1; Energy Times, July-August 1980, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[76] Response to Commonwealth Edison Company’s First Round of Interrogatories to be Answered by DAARE and SAFE, In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company Byron Station, Units 1 and 2, Docket Nos. 50-454 OL and 50-455 OL (ASLB filed October 11, 1981).

[77] However, the ASLB sanctioned the Rockford League of Women Voters and removed the organization as intervenors. Months later and following extensive litigation, the ASLB re-admitted the League to the process.

[78] Energy Times, March 1982, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[79] Holmbeck, 80-82.

[80] SAFE Newsletter, Fall 1982, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[81] SAFE Newsletter, Spring 1982, page 4, Collection 212, Box 1.

[82] Holmbeck, 85, 90-91; SAFE Newsletter, 1982, page 11, Collection 212, Box 1.

[83] SAFE Press Release March 1983, Collection 212, Box 25.

[84] SAFE Newsletter, Fall 1982, pages 2 and 10, Collection 212, Box 1.

[85] The other four contentions related to worker exposure to radiation, the seismic potential around Byron, the adequacy of radiation monitoring at the plant, and risks posed to radioactive contamination of groundwater. All of these issues required paid expert testimony as well as pretrial preparation work. Holmbeck, 107-109; SAFE Passages, Winter 1983, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[86] SAFE Passages, Winter 1983, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[87] Initial Decision, In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company Byron Station, Units 1 and 2, Docket Nos. 50-454 OL and 50-455 OL (January 13, 1984).

[88] “Inventory of the DeKalb Area Alliance for Responsible Energy/Sinnissippi Alliance for the Environment,” 3-6.

[89] Diane Chavez, “’Tip of iceberg,’ says intervenor,” Rockford Register Star (January 22, 1984), 4D.

[90] SAFE Passages, Winter 1983, pages 4-5, Collection 212, Box 1.

[91] Initial Decision, In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company Byron Station, Units 1 and 2, Docket Nos. 50-454 OL and 50-455 OL (January 13, 1984).

[92] DAARE Press Release March 7, 1983, Collection 212, Box 25.

[93] Ron Winslow, “Records on Commonwealth Edison Show History of Nuclear Problems,” The Wall Street Journal (January 27, 1984), 25.

[94] Hogan, 424 – 426.

[95] In the Matter of Commonwealth Edison Company Byron Station, Units 1 and 2, 19 NRC 1163 (1984).

[96] “Foes of Nuclear Plant in Illinois Find Fight is Over,” The New York Times (February 18, 1985), A11,

[97] SAFE Newsletter, Winter 1984-1985, page 4, Collection 212, Box 1.

[98] SAFE Newsletter, Fall 1982, page 10, Collection 212, Box 1.

[99] SAFE Passages, Winter 1983, page 10, Collection 212, Box 1.

[100] Holmbeck, 159.

[101] Energy Times, January/February 1980, DAARE, page 7, Collection 212, Box 1.

[102] Energy Times, December 1979, DAARE, page 5, Collection 212, Box 1.

[103] DAARE Newsletter, March 1980, page 5, Collection 212, Box 1.

[104] DAARE Newsletter, 1978, page 4, Collection 212, Box 1.

[105] SAFE Newsletter, Winter 1984-1985, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[106] “Do YOU want nuclear reactors at Byron, Illinois?” DAARE pamphlet, Collection 212, Box 1.

[107] Energy Times, April 1980, pages 1 and 8, Collection 212, Box 1.

[108] Energy Times, September 1980, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[109] SAFE Newsletter, January 1982, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[110] DAARE Newsletter, undated, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[111] For example, one newsletter highlights how solar energy would create more jobs than nuclear energy (citing an AFL-CIO study). In another example, DAARE provided a summary and commentary on Barry Commoner’s The Politics of Energy celebrating the book’s call for the federal government to move the US to government-run renewable energy. DAARE Newsletter, labeled “1979 or 1980”, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1; Energy Times, January/February 1980, pages 1, 5-6, Collection 212, Box 1.

[112] DAARE Newsletter, October-November 1979, page 8, Collection 212, Box 1.

[113] DAARE Newsletter, 1978, pages 1-3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[114] Energy Times, July-August 1980, pages 1 and 8-9, Collection 212, Box 1.

[115] Energy Times, Fall 1985, pages 6-7, Collection 212, Box 1. Note the estimates for “Byron, Units 1 & 2, Rockford, IL” were 9,050 early fatalities, 79,300 peak early injuries, 15,300 peak cancer deaths, and $114 billion scaled costs for each unit (in other words, double the numbers for a two-reactor accident).

[116] SAFE Passages, Winter 1983, pages 6-8, Collection 212, Box 1.

[117] “Tale of the greedy candlemaker,” SAFE Passages, July-August-September 1984, page 1, Collection 212, Box 1.

[118] “Westinghouse Steam Generator…Achilles Heel of Byron,” SAFE Passages, Winter 1983, pages 11-12, Collection 212, Box 1.

[119] Natasha Zaretsky, Radiation Nation: Three Mile Island and the Political Transformation of the 1970s, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 5.

[120] SAFE Newsletter, May 1, 1979, page 6, Collection 212, Box 1.

[121] Discussing the potential damage to public health in Central Pennsylvania (“Only time will reveal the rise in cancer and leukemia there, and the rise of infant mortality there”), the newsletter asserts “[i]ncredibly, the Three Mile Island is not the first nuclear plant incident” and describes the Fermi Plant incident in 1966 (described as “a meltdown” which could have destroyed Detroit) and the near meltdown at Browns Ferry Plant in Huntsville, Alabama in 1975. DAARE Newsletter, undated, pages 1-2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[122] Fifty people attended this event. Dr. Bertell asserted that the report from the Kemeny Commission attempted to minimize potentially alarming information about evacuation plans, “lines of authority during the crisis,” the “breakdown of gases” released during the incident, and “radiation counts for the surrounding population” and concluded that the report “…only came down hard on those things that can be fixed. There was nothing in the report about human health which is a fragility that can’t be fixed.” DAARE Newsletter, October/November 1979, page 6, Collection 212, Box 1.

[123] DAARE Newsletter, December 1979, pages 1-4, Collection 212, Box 1.

[124] Luther J. Carter, “Political Fallout from Three Mile Island,” Science 204, no. 4389 (1979), 154–55,

[125] DAARE Newsletter, March 1980, pages 5-6, Collection 212, Box 1. It is worth noting that according to the NRC, “approximately 2 million people around [Three Mile Island] during the accident are estimated to have received an average radiation dose of only 1 millirem above the usual background dose” and “the maximum dose to a person at the site boundary would have been less than 100 millirem above background.” See NRC Website, “Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident,” accessed March 5, 2022,

[126] The study also reports increases in newborn deaths for the same time period in Pittsburgh (65%), the state of Pennsylvania and adjacent areas in the state of New York (92%). The study was later debunked for statistical and methodological errors. Ernest J. Sternglass was a professor of radiological physics and had achieved notoriety in the late 1960s for a study that linked the fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing with infant fatalities. During the Three Mile Island crisis, Sternglass also drew attention to himself by warning pregnant women and children in Harrisburg residents to evacuate immediately. SAFE Newsletter, March 1980, pages 1-2, Collection 212, Box 1; Walker, 105-109.

[127] Energy Times, April 1980, page 1, Collection 212, Box 1.

[128] SAFE Newsletter, May-June 1981, page 4, Collection 212, Box 1.

[129] SAFE, “Nine Good Reasons Why the Byron Plant Should Never Start Up,” fundraising letter (undated), Collection 212, Box 1.

[130] Energy Times, April 1980, page 5, Collection 212, Box 1.

[131] Energy Times, Fall 1985, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[132] Energy Times, December 1979, page 7, Collection 212, Box 1.

[133] DAARE Newsletter, undated, pages 1-2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[134] DAARE pamphlet, “Commonwealth Edison…Working for You?” Collection 212, Box 7.

[135] DAARE Newsletter, March 1980, page 6, Collection 212, Box 1.

[136] SAFE Newsletter, Winter 1984-1985, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[137] Hogan, 410, 429-431.

[138] The essay attempts to prove quantitatively that oil and coal plants could increase their electrical output and replace the power generated by nuclear plants. In addition, the author argues Commonwealth Edison could supplement Illinois demand by purchasing electricity generated from outside its system. DAARE Newsletter, March 1980, pages 1, 8-9, Collection 212, Box 1.

[139] In addition to Ronald Reagan winning the presidency in 1980, the GOP picked up seats in the Senate to take the majority for the first time since the Eisenhower era, and substantially narrowed the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. In 1984, President Reagan was re-elected in a landslide victory in the electrical college. In contrast, Illinois had a divided government, with a Senator from each party, fourteen Republicans and ten Democrats in the House of Representatives, a Republican governor (Jim Thompson), and a General Assembly that remained mostly under Democratic control.

[140] Feldman, 15.

[141] SAFE Newsletter, October 1981, page 6, Collection 212, Box 1.

[142] For instance, SAFE opposed Project ELF, a Navy nuclear submarine communications program being tested in Clam Lake, Wisconsin, and sent SAFE members to attend protests demanding President Reagan shut down the program. SAFE Newsletter, May-June 1981, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[143] SAFE Newsletter, Fall 1982, pages 4-7, Collection 212, Box 1.

[144] SAFE Newsletter, date unknown, page 10, Collection 212, Box 1. This may have been from early 1983.

[145] For example, during the United Nations Second Annual Session on Disarmament in 1982, SAFE participated with other groups in pushing “the Rockford City Council to pass a Nuclear Weapons Freeze.” SAFE Newsletter, Spring 1982, pages 1-2, Collection 212, Box 1. In another example, SAFE encouraged its members to sign a petition circulated by the Illinois Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and the Rockford Peace and Justice Action Committee “To Help Stop the Nuclear Arms Race”. SAFE Newsletter, date unknown, page 9, Collection 212, Box 1. This may have been from early 1983.

[146] DAARE Newsletter, March 1980, page 3, Collection 212, Box 1.

[147] Initially, the additional tax receipts were used to build new high school and further funding the park district. Tax revenues increased as the plant was completed. In 1983, Commonwealth Edison had paid $9.5 million in property taxes that were “pumping money into the Byron school, forest preserve and fire protection districts” while also lowering property taxes for homeowners. Once the plant was running, Commonwealth Edison offered steady local employment plus increased sales for local merchants. As Ogle County enjoyed Commonwealth Edison’s largess, it found new ways to spend the funds: a new public library, a community swimming pool, boat landings, public buildings, and “highways and bridges that seldom have potholes or cracks”. Eileen Peterson, “Byron residents are smiling more,” Rockford Register Star, (August 16, 1981); John Collinge, “Byron boom thanks to nuke plant,” Rockford Register Star, (May 17, 1984); Eileen Peterson, “Plant tax money goes to spruce up Ogle area,” Rockford Register Star, (August 22, 1984).

[148] Energy Times, April 1980, page 2, Collection 212, Box 1.

[149] Building on historical analyses arguing the conservative shift in US politics began and the 1970s (as opposed to the “Reagan revolution” narrative), Zaretsky’s cultural history of the communities around Three Mile Island demonstrates how right-leaning voters and politicians took antinuclear sentiments and made them into an argument against the power of government. Reacting to the late ‘60s counterculture, the damage to national reputation caused by the Vietnam War, and a weakened US economy facing stagflation and the oil embargo, at a national level conservative rhetoric began to emphasize national injuries that needed to be recovered from—analogizing the national as an injured, physical body. Relatedly, the wake of Three Mile Island, conservative activists used the tactics and imagery from late ‘60s/early ‘70s progressive movements (anti-war, environmental, women’s rights) in order “to stress the new, enhanced role of the body within an aggrieved nationalism that took hold of the political right…” Zaretsky calls this new kind of conservative rhetoric “biotic nationalism” which used “ecologically derived images of vulnerable bodies of mothers, babies, and fetuses…” See Zaretsky, xv-xix, 1-14, 85-89, 97-99.

[150] Eileen Lucas, “Stan Campbell gains pride in Quixote-like nuke jousting,” Rockford Register Star, (January 19, 1984).

[151] Giugni, 86.

[152] David N. Merrill, “Nuclear Siting and Licensure Process,” in Nuclear Reactions: Documenting American Encounters with Nuclear Energy, ed. by James W. Feldman (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 198-199.

[153] Weart, 249.

[154] Timothy Gardner, “Illinois approves $700 million in subsidies to Exelon, prevents nuclear plant closures,” Reuters (September 13, 2021):

[155] Max Blau, “First new US nuclear reactor in 20 years goes live,” CNN Online (October 21, 2016):

[156] Locations of New Nuclear Power Reactor Applications, USNRC Website,

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