Thursday, December 1, 2011
(Cage the Elephant -Shake Me Down playing in the background - ok as my Senior Synthesis oral presentation starts with the image of Banksy's Elephant, this just got better! )
Tuesday morning on the bus to Tacoma, I opened the book, "Women Pioneers for the Environment" by Mary Joy Breton (1998) and started reading from that chance page.
The book is one of the texts for my class "the Power of One" taught by Dr D. Anderson (Psychology) and Dr F. Soloman (Environmental Biology) at The Evergreen State College (Tacoma branch) -Like!
So I found myself reading about Mary Sinclair, a scientist who took on Dow Chemical and the Nuclear Industry.
"In 1967, ..Sinclare's interest in nuclear power became more than scientific. She learned that the local public utility company planned to construct a nuclear power plant two miles from her home in an area of 100,000 people. Dow Chemical, the city's primary employer (ouch) had contracted to purchase nuclear power from the utility. Sinclair knew that there were still serious problems with the technology. She recalls, "This is when my concerns for the fate of the earth in a nuclear age really brgan to take ahold of me. " (p 88) She decided to take her concerns to the community.
"The combined level of power and money represented by Dow and the local electric company intimidated the people of Midlands. (Michigan) One in six residents worked for Dow. Sinclair herself had been a research librarian for the compnay and she also did freelance technical writing for it. The utility and the chemical maker launched an intensive campaign in the community to promote the plant. Sinclair could not believe the picture they presented:
"What enraged me the most...was the fact that so many lies were being told to the public about such grave matters....I was enraged that without resolving these grave issues, huge financial commitments were being made to promote and spread this technology without full disclosure to the public of the impacts to them..and future generations"
To stimulate discussions of her concerns in the community she wrote what she believed to be mild -sounding letters to the Midlands Daily news. Hostility exploded on all sides. friends stopped talking to her and avoided her in shops and on the street....After her first letter to the newspaper, Sinclair could not get a job in Midland.
Facing ridicule and social ostracism in Midlands, Sinclair began an intense study of the nuclear safety issue. Staying on top of a highly technical subject required an enormous effort. She worried she might be wrong. If so , she would willingly admit it." (p 89)
"She attended a seminar in NYC on nuclear energy where she heard objective, unfiltered information." She also discovered other citizens groups throughout the country. Sinclair photocopied the best papers from the seminar and mailed them to 20 scientists she knew at Dow. "One or 2 scientists at Dow called her, admitting they agreed, but said they could n0t speak out because it would jeopardize their jobs." (p 90)
The local newspaper refused to print any more of her letters, telling her she would have to buy advertising space to air her views.
The licensing hearings for the construction permit took two years. "In the main, the delay arose because serious problems kept surfacing throughout the nuclear industry." (emergency cooling tests failed, more serious effects at allowable levels of radiation than had been thought, more) In spite of all this the AEC granted the building permit. (1972)
Sinclair continued, getting her Masters in environmental communications from the University of Michigan and later a doctorate from the university's School of Natural Resources.
"Sinclair believes that because women are the bearers of life they think more deeply than men about children's health." (p 92) Men were motivated by the idea that they wouldn't be able to insure their homes against a nuclear accident. Eventually she got a few other people involved in the work.
Technology and construction delays began to erode Dow's enthusiasm. However under threat of suit by the electric company Dow just renegotiated the contract instead of backing out. Sinclair and her citizens group acting as intervenes, had accumulated and documented 18 reasons the operating permit should be denied.
In a 1983 public meeting, Mary Sinclair finally heard cheers not jeers and
as of 1996, Mary Sinclair was still actively involved with nuclear issues.
"We have a safer world because of her and others like her." (p 94)
Thank you, Mary and thank you universe.
This is why the Peoples Media Arts Uprising 2012 is important. We need to share our knowledge, our stories and connect. What happened in Midlands is a micro of a macro drama that is taking place around the world. Looking to profit at the expense of health and well being is a cancer that must be stopped before life's ability to renew is totally fouled.