70s Echo in New ‘No Nukes’ Campaign

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 — In 1979, in the dark freeze of the cold war and six months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Middletown, Pa., they packed Madison Square Garden for a series of “No Nukes” concerts that seemed to echo a generation’s fear of atomic Armageddon.

Now, the musicians, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne, aging, activist rock stars, have reunited to battle the nuclear power industry on Capitol Hill.
They hope to revive the antinuclear movement to have a single sentence dropped from the energy bill moving through Congress that could give the industry $50 billion in loan guarantees for new plants.

But much has changed in 28 years.

The debate on nuclear power has evolved, with fears of global warming prompting some officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, to say expanding nuclear plants has to be considered.

A bill intended to lower emissions of greenhouse gases, introduced last week by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, sets goals that would be virtually impossible to achieve without new nuclear plants.

The musicians disputed in interviews the portrayal of nuclear power as “clean energy.”

Although they oppose nuclear energy generally, they have focused on the loan guarantees. The critics say the market should render a verdict on atomic power, compared to wind, solar and other renewable sources.

The House and the Senate have approved versions of the bill, which has to be reconciled before being sent to President Bush.

“If it’s such a great business, why doesn’t business do it?” Mr. Nash asked. “Why do they have to make the public pay?”

A spokesman for Senator Pete V. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who inserted the provision on loan guarantees, said they would not cost taxpayers anything and would be available to all types of energy developers. not just nuclear. “There is no handout,” the spokesman, Matt Letourneau, said.

J. Scott Peterson, a vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, said: “We have proven that we are safe. We are competitive on the grid and we’ll let the marketplace dictate if nuclear power plants are built going forward.”

Still the singers hope to galvanize a generation that was not even born when the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown occurred.

A music video, also featuring Ben Harper and Keb’ Mo’ on YouTube, has an Internet petition with more than 120,000 signatures.

On Monday night, the performers gave an intimate performance on Capitol Hill for lawmakers who might consider deleting that loan guarantees from the energy bill.

John Hall, of the band Orleans, who was an organizer of the 1979 concerts and is now a Democratic member of Congress from New York, joined them on stage.


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