BREDL as Sustainable Business in a Community Context


The cousins whom I encounter in doing these stories literally have me weeping with joy at times: how can we go wrong, when the likes of Mike Ewall, Bobbie Paul, and Louis Zeller--whom we encounter today, as a champion of community and thereby as the best possible hope of embodying 'sustainable business'--seem to compose just a small sample of the 'mensch' who characterize the human prospect?

Joe Hill, as he faced his murderers, cloaked in judicial robes that justified their lynching, said "Don't mourn. Organize." Mary Harris (Mother) Jones, approaching her 100th birthday as she slipped away, repeated Joe Hill's simple advice. The power of organization, and the concomitant helplessness and ennui that is the best that the unorganized can expect, thus forms a theme of today's output.

Joe Hill wrote the classic "Pie in the Sky" both to snort his outrage at a system that produced the sorts of lies and devastation that have appeared in many of the stories distributed through these forums, and to prod people to think and act about these outrageous depredations. His words cross nearly a century since the authorities murdered him "for writing songs like this."

"Working folks of all countries unite,
side by side we for freedom shall fight.
When the world and its wealth we have gained,
To the grafters we'll sing this refrain:
You will eat, by and by,
When you've learned how to cook and how to fry;
chop some wood, do you good,
and you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye.

The primary message that flows from the heart and mind of this extraordinary hero is twofold. The first part is about the false front that forms the surface of the mediated versions of the lives that we lead, and how this falsity hurts our prospects of becoming fully human. In other words, the 'bye and bye' is a lie.

The second portion, on display above, concerns the aforementioned need for powerful ways of relating to each other. Lacking such 'organization,' personal responsibility evaporates because collective potency is impossible. Of all the contentions that have flowed through these essays, none has a greater significance than does this one.

At the same time, many of the other themes that activate the stories I've written show up again in today's posting. The insidious cult of secrecy, the foolish compartmentalization of understanding, the dismissal of community knowledge, and more emerge in the lines that follow.

And once again, this time in the form of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, we have the good fortune to observe empowering community engagement that can serve as a model for all of us. That sense of design, of a template from which we can do 'business better' and achieve renewable energy, and so on, as folks may recall, is also thematic in this ongoing work.


When I found out that Lou Zeller and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) had both originated near Madison County, North Carolina, where my wife and I married in a homey ceremony, part old hippie and part Latin funk, I figured that 'it's a small world' would end up being part of this story. That region of the world is as close to heaven as I've ever seen on earth--verdant rain forests, tumbling waterfalls, vistas as vivid as the seven wonders rolled into one.

Little did I think that the origins of BREDL, which were in relation to a bizarre plan "wired from the inside," according to Zeller, to create a high-level nuclear waste repository, would lead to the site of our wedding, practically on top of all of the geologic volatility implicit in a place name like 'Hot Springs Nor was this the end to the sense of congruence.

The initial 'waste-inside-the-fault-lines' plan, "shelved but not killed," according to the testimony of Mary Olson, has returned to life, like a long dormant attack-vampire. Olson, a principle in the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), has for decades stood up to the proponents of things nuclear.

Her passionate opposition to atomic technology emanates from a personal nightmare of radiation poisoning that nearly did her in. She had to cope with fear of dismissal from her job when she protested her exposure, and lies and cover-up thicker than the steel that 'protects' us from the toxic cores of reactors typified the authorities' response to her confrontation with a dual inherency: those of radiation's lethal potential and of humanity's careless sloppiness.

In case JustMeans readers don't recall, the official response to Mary's personal tragedy is a theme--lies and cover ups-- that characterizes the entire administrative structure of nuclear matters, whether corporate or governmental. And, as if they've learned nothing, as if the promoters of fission-to-boil-tea have not listened to anything other than the overarching imperative of capital to find a place to park its cash, some of the same folks whom we've met in the course of other nuclear monstrosities want to come back to Madison County, now that Yucca Mountain appears as dead as a door nail.

We can listen to Brent Scowcroft, he who acknowledged that despite all of the careful planning, 'we' might 'have gotten it wrong about Depleted Uranium,' extol, as Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America's Nuclear Future, the again 'well-studied' virtues of burying a hundred-million-year witches brew beneath the people of Western North Carolina or some other hapless community. But, once more, that is not all.

We will learn that, so far as the government of the world's greatest democracy is concerned, the future of nukes is a fait acompli, no more resistable than is the coming of the equinox in a week or so. And I have to note, before continuing in this chronicle of a courageous community organization and the magnificent folk who toil under its auspices, that this is yet another verse of Joe HIll's "Pie in the Sky," about which the martyr's final refrain was memorable: "That's a lie!"


The story that Lou recounts about twenty six years ago, were the coming of a glowing future full of nukes irresistible, would never grace these pages. Its presence here, above all else, is a testament to the simple statement: "The people, united, will never be defeated."

In 1984, Lou Zeller and his wife, with "small kids at home," were committed proponents of peace and disarmament, right in the center of the Appalachian massif. They had "been doing peace and environment work, with this newsletter we put out and all, for years and years," all of this on a volunteer basis, when they discovered, "out of nowhere really," that the Department of Energy was eyeing the area along the French Broad River as a repository for high level radioactive waste.

Under the purview of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, DOE had narrowed its search for a place to implant nuclear poison to "12 areas in the Eastern United States," according to Zeller, as plausible recipients of this glowing gift. Needless to say, none of the localities chosen 'jumped for joy' at this news. In fact, a preliminary Madison County (Population in 1980 under 20,000) meeting that Lou and Janet Zeller helped to organize drew 300 people to a crowded little hall where the air of disgust against the potential present from Ronald Reagan and Congress was universal.

All over the Eastern U.S., the responses were similar. A key law suit( in the aftermath of NWPA, the so-called "Northern States Power" action, dovetailed with the Minnesota's legislature's rejecting high level waste out of hand, "without express authorization."

This case continues to be among the most cited of Federal judicial decisions, and a treasure trove of documents, completely indexed, awaits the intrepid researcher who can find the resources to delve this matter. As things stand, the powers-that-be--both corporate and governmental, once again are preparing to designate some slice of the nation as a "sacrifice zone."

The original decision to split the burden of 'disposing' of lethal materials that would remain noxious for thousands of years or more, according to Minnesota's archivists, "was a compromise between Western and Eastern states. While not explicitly ordering it, the Act called for construction of two underground nuclear waste repositories, one to open in the West in 1990 and one in the East several years later."

"The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)," this overview from Minnesota continues, "conducted studies in crystalline rock formations in 17 states for a possible location for the second repository," in relation to which Madison County, along with Janet and Lou and their children, and the three hundred folks who met in 1986, 'made the cut' as a finalist.

To say the least nervous at the prospects of these wastes percolating a mile or two below the surface of where their youngsters played and went to school, "We had speakers to come to the group that was launching," and "it caught BREDL's attention," the NGO having been in existence in the area for just a year or so at that point.

Lou pondered, a wry tone noticeable even over the phone, "Had they done homework at DOE? After all, they missed Hot Springs, which should have stuck out like a big sore thumb," suggesting a geology highly suspect in terms of lodging a hot and nasty solidified sludge of radioactive putrefaction "underneath our homes," as well, I would have added, as below some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant land that our fair orb offers to life.

Though he cannot prove his hunch, Lou is certain that "the political layers of DOE's work were important." He suspects, but cannot prove that "investigations about oil and gas drilling might have had something to do" with Madison County's being chosen. The "pre-selection showed evidence of tipping choices like in a pork-barrel way," with North Carolina also in the running for a low level dump during those years.

"The two campaigns," one against the high-level waste in the Mountains and the other for lower level trash on the coastal plain, "sort of dovetailed into each other." As matters transpired, North Carolina was one of the final two locales for the low level garbage. In sum, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of citizens turned out, turned up, and turned on the heat against these deadly support systems for the nuclear power industry.

This notion of how critical waste handling is to the power industry is crucial to understand, and will be an aspect of the next article on this topic. Briefly, however, readers need to see that keeping large volumes of highly irradiated materials, full of horrible toxins, at nuclear reactor sites scattered around the nation, aggregating after each refueling in higher and higher amounts, was not only environmentally risky--and potentially a massive public health danger for millions of people, but expensive for the utilities that had to oversee the stuff.

One legal commentator stated simply that "Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (i)n response to the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel at commercial reactors," proceeding to note that "Nuclear waste has long been the Achilles’ heel of the civilian nuclear power industry. The spent nuclear fuel that reactors generate remains radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years; however, all the spent fuel that has been generated to date is stored in temporary, short-term facilities. As the federal government struggles to develop a permanent solution, many temporary storage facilities are nearing capacity. A few states in which civilian reactors are located have placed severe constraints on the construction of additional needed storage, potentially causing the shutdown of the federally-licensed reactors. In part because of this pressure from the states, Congress has sought to create a federal, centralized interim storage facility while development of a permanent repository proceeds. This controversial effort has yet to succeed."

These 'severe constraints' have been escalating since the 1980's, as deadline after deadline for finding a 'permanent solution' to a million-year problem came and went without any 'final solution' proving acceptable. Back in the 1980's(, "In May of 1986, the DOE announced it was going to suspend the search for the second repository, largely because it was felt that the Western site could handle all of the nation's nuclear waste through the year 2020. Western states cried foul and claimed the decision was meant to help Republican political candidates back East."

Robert Alvarez, a venerable policy analyst who has specialized in such issues, today came as close to 'reading the riot act' about the matter as his ilk will ever do. In his article, "Advice for the Blue Ribbon Commission," he notes about what happened in Madison County and elsewhere a quarter century ago, "This process was scrapped ... due to eastern states derailing the selection process. At that time Congress voted to make Yucca Mountain the only site to be considered. Yet Yucca's proposed opening date slipped by more than 20 years as the project encountered major technical hurdles and fierce local and state opposition."

Lou Zeller is not a policy wonk. He is a self-taught citizen's science advocate who has fought for democracy, social and environmental justice, and simple ecological wisdom for that same quarter century that Alvarez mentions and more. We should listen to what he says about that now long-ago process.

"It was the obverse of success in Madison County, with state and national issues boiling, hearings in Ashevillle, '88 hearings in Congress that dumped all 12 sites in the East--basically a national outcry about the whole process led to a changed law, with them saying 'Oh, we had less waste than anticipated, so we only need West.' That's a lie: it was just a fig leaf to get out of hot water. The 'Screw-Nevada Bill' was the nickname" of that legislation. And now, despite the mulish resistance of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Yucca Mountain is toast. Hence, earlier this year, Barack Obama, exactly the friend to the nuclear industry that I've been calling him since January 2008, appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. We'll be considering the implications of that name momentarily, and examining this political love-fest between high-level politicians and the nuclear establishment more thoroughly in coming articles.

But in 2010, in Madison County, folks are singing "We Won't Get Fooled Again," by the Who. As a recent article pointed out, front-loading the issue for local consideration,

"The rumors have been circulating since early spring (that) the Department of Energy is once again considering a nuclear waste repository in Sandy Mush. Those who lived here in the 1980s remember well the groundswell of opposition that arose when the federal government seriously considered burying much of the nation’s nuclear waste about 14 miles from downtown Marshall. The governor, house representatives, and even the late Sen. Jesse Helms railed against the plan. Local residents met with Vice President George Bush to argue against putting the dump here. On April 4, 1986, a public hearing regarding the proposed nuclear waste dump lasted nine hours, so many people in Sandy Mush and across the region opposed the dump. ...According to reports from the time, the Department of Energy thought a 10,000-foot thick layer of granite beneath Sandy Mush might be just what was needed for the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. But opponents argued that the rock was broken and faulty, and that ground water could cause the metal cases holding the waste to corrode."

A policy article that reads like a public relations primer for the governmental/industrial agenda's advocates puts the matter in silky terms. "Nuclear waste policy in the United States has failed in large part because of public and state opposition to repository siting. However, that outcome was not inevitable. This paper argues that better policy design and greater attention to the crucial tasks of policy legitimation... .may increase the probability of success."

Lou Zeller would shake his head at the sophisticated spin. "The impact on communities and the environment are just huge, and public health is even a bigger issue." He recalls a founding member of BREDL. "Bernard Goss was on the original board... . (and since he) worked for an Electric Membership Co-op, (he had a fair amount of technical knowledge). HIs vision was to avoid victimization, a kind of repeat performance where the politically weaker get hurt repeatedly. You know, the sh** rolls downhill. He had this vision of environmental justice as a strategic piece of community self-defense."

Twenty-five years later, while he deplores that the man that North Carolina helped to put into the White House has turned into a 'wolf-in-sheep's clothing,' he is ready to join the struggle again. "The price of liberty," or more truly the price of democracy, "is eternal vigilance."


We might recall the turn that M. King Hubbert took away from nuclear enthusiasm and toward the renewable sources of power that readers have also witnessed unfolding in these pages. In memorial interviews, he all but comes out and accuses government and industry scientists of lying in order to promote nuclear power. This tendency has not diminished, or not so that a close observer would notice anyway.

As Lou Zeller points out, sifting through the official story in such cases is "Like the layers of an onion peeled back; we always work from original agency documents, who are doing supposedly scientific work." The first task, he says, is "translating everything into Engl so people could understand," pointing out that "a lot of the language is meant to keep people from asking questions" or generally knowing what's going on.

As one of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League's first permanent employees, Lou has had twenty five years to skill up and reach a high level of acuity and broad reach of scientific comprehension; he emphasizes nonetheless that "anyone who is willing to work at it can learn," and that, equally important, "speaking from the heart and appealing to reasonable emotion" is a legitimate part of the process, which he terms almost 'theatrical.'

Thus, because he has retained his hope and remained heartfelt in his belief that "the United States is still a democracy, after all," Lou Zeller will be one capable stalwart for communities in Appalachia that need a hand in keeping at bay the established choice to dump, somewhere or other, enough poison to kill millions and sicken an entire region. Arrayed against him, on the front lines, is the President's recently appointed Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC).

I pay attention to language. That's part of my job. When I hear that a 'blue ribbon panel' is about to tackle an investigation, I know, from long experience, that cover-ups--not to mention coveralls for the bullsh**--are likely soon to be necessary.

Here's what a Princeton political science glossary called such a body: "an independent and exclusive commission of nonpartisan statesmen and experts formed to investigate some important governmental issue." In the matter at hand, millions of gallons of baneful, septic poisons, ineluctably tainted for thousands upon thousands of years, ought certainly to qualify as an 'important issue.'

To determine whether the implicit promise to conduct an unbiased investigation is realistic, we should consider the constitution of the this definitely 'exclusive' crew that our President has empanelled. I too know the refrain from the Who. I am not fooled. Let's go through the list, one at a time.

*Brent Scowcroft, definitely the first-among-equals co-chair, is no more unbiased about nuclear matters than I am unprejudiced about mass collective suicide. He is the one who made the comment that we were 'mistaken' about Depleted Uranium but then said we'd just go ahead and keep using it; he is a two-time National Security Advisor (under Ford and daddy Bush), a seven year Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates--to balance this fellow, as Co-Chair would require putting Mary Olson in as the back up BRC head.

*Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Congressman from Indiana and Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, has developed an especial expertise on Southwest Asia; one article refers to him as Obama's eminence griese on Iran, where he favors the recognition of Iran's right to use fission electricity--the point being that, at best, he could hardly oppose here what he believes reasonable there: to balance him, I'd have to be on the panel.

*Mark Ayers, head of the Building and Construction Trades at AFL-CIO, is, to put it mildly, rabidly pro-nuclear--no balance possible here.

*Vicki Bailey, head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under Bill Clinton and DOE's Assistant Secretary for Policy and Foreign Affairs under Baby Bush, is no more balanced about nuclear energy than is the DOE; she does acknowledge the need to be more persuasive in "meeting the nuclear industry's needs;"--she is Secretary of the United States Energy Association, for the 'Clean Energy' agenda of which she is helping to promulgate "The American Nuclear Energy Revival Briefing Series: "Why Nuclear Energy? Why Now?”--to balance this one would require Dr. Arjun Makhijani.

*Albert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, UCLA, recently served on a panel that sought to figure out how to promote nuclear power without risking proliferation; he said, "To come up with an optimal policy that can not be implemented, ain't optimal," and is one of only a couple or three moderately pro-nuclear members of BRC--one could balance him with Wendell Berry.

*Pete V. Domenici, Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; former U.S. Senator (R-NM), is a lifelong advocate of a 'strong defense posture' and, as the Nuclear Energy Institute's daily diarist noted, "I'm a bit encouraged to see Domenici and Peterson on the commission "--Lou Zeller would balance this guy.

*Susan Eisenhower, President, the Eisenhower Group, recently had this to say; "The Commission has a challenging and important assignment, the result of which could have lasting impact on our nation’s ability to fully utilize the potential of this carbon free source of energy. I am honored to join in this effort"--Bobbi Paul might provide some balance here.

*Chuck Hagel, Former U.S. Senator (R-NE), bless his heart, labeled the Iraqi War as one of the 'five biggest blunders in history,' so he is clearly an independent thinker and another possible moderate on these matters; then again, he's on Chevron's board, the oil company the nukesters love the best--as such, a moderate anti-nuclear presence, say someone like Dr. Makhijani, would offset this fellow's influence.

*Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute, recently said, "There is an increasing number of people who have spent their lives as environmental advocates who believe that carbon is such an urgent problem that they have to rethink their skepticism about nuclear power,” then "put(ting) himself in that category"--again, a moderate anti-nuclear sort would do here.

* Allison Macfarlane, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University, even though she has said that because "diversity and flexibility are key, nuclear energy may(something). ...(w)e can’t live without .. right now," is probably moderately anti nuclear in the long term: she is the one unequivocally 'moderate' choice among these fifteen panelists.

* Dick Meserve, Former Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is a brilliant scientist and a dedicated backer of matters atomic--requires a Mary Olson and a Michael Marriotte of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service to balance out.

* Ernie Moniz, Professor of Physics and Cecil & Ida Green Distinguished Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a DOE staffer under Clinton, is obviously a brilliant policy analyst, and while he is staunchly pro-nuke, he does recognize that economic and safety issues, not to mention proliferation problems, are real as opposed to fanciful--an Arjun Makhijani could readily provide a counterpoise here.

* Per Peterson, Professor and Chair, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California - Berkeley, is another favorite of the nuke lobby, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and a fellow of the American Nuclear Society--Dr. Helen Caldicott would be about right as a check on his orientation.

* John Rowe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exelon Corporation, paradoxically, excited tremendous wrath among pro-nuclear sorts, despite the fact that he chairs a utility company that own and operates 17 nuclear reactors, "the largest nuclear fleet in the nation;" his orientation toward profitability makes him shy of building new nukes, despite (a rational POV would say because of) his lifelong affiliation with the industry--again, could we but clone Dr. M., we could balance another 'moderate' proponent of atomic tea kettles.

* Phil Sharp, President, Resources for the Future, also serves on the Duke Energy Board of Directors and serves as Vice-Chair of the Energy Foundation, which is an only modestly pro-nuclear "clean energy" think tank; another of Barack-the-Magnificent's knights of genius, he would be possible to balance, or maybe tip toward a renewable energy orientation, with Dr. Makhijani.

Now I have to admit, the make-up of this group could be worse. I mean, they're all smart, and a few are certified hyper-geniuses. One member, Dr. McFarlane, is legitimately somewhere around 5.0 on a scale of 0-10 anti-to-pro-nuclear; three more members, one of whom is the CEO of the world's largest nuclear operator, outside of the French government, are maybe 6.0 or a little higher. Only one of the members, the Building Trades nuclear-love-fest head honcho, Ayers, is basically a 10.0.

Moreover, I'm not a complete idiot. These people are not deciding 'up-or-down' on nukes, mainly because in an.absolutely undemocratic and arguably illegal fashion, under Dick Cheney's Energy-group confabulation, that choice has already happened--welcome to the coming century of nukes, according to the Plutocrats.

Nope. The smart cookies at BRC are seeking, in a way that neither murders a bunch of folks nor bankrupts the nation, to deal with the nauseating results of America's atomic appetite. But that's part of my point. In trying to manage such a noisome task, one would think that a few skeptics about the technology--a few smart folks out there do doubt nukes, as Louis Zeller attests--ought to have a chance to weigh in on the situation. Imagine, after the holocaust, that a clean-up committee for Auschwitz, consisting of fifteen members, had one participant only who was neutral on Naziism.

If this doesn't make sense to someone, that person needs a course in Equity-101, or a Refresher on Democratic Values, or something similar. And a bit more digging would, I'm pretty sure, make the picture look worse rather than better. And although the particulars will have to await my next article, a quick look at a couple of the hearings, which BRC has so far held, does not augur well for fairness.

Brave and redoubtable and cautious and brilliant as she is, Mary Olson cannot stand up, single-handed, to a score of folks whose only pro-community thought appeared at first glance to be along the lines of 'how can we convince these people to shut up and do what we say?' But that's the conundrum that she faced in her August 31 appearance before the BRC.

"Environmental democracy," according to Lou Zeller, "is a concept we coined; if we are to accept that technology has pollution and other negative impacts, even if they're supposedly 'for the puplic good,' then people have the right, even the duty, to participate in that decision-making process."

Otherwise, it can't really count as democracy., Lou's not talking "only about how a technology's done," which is exactly the marching orders of the BRC, "but at the outset, folks get to say whether it should be done in the first place."

I believe in democracy, whether or not the Demopublicans or the Republocrats agree. I'll bet, as well, that doing "business better" requires a commitment to majority rule. Here's a clue: the Blue Ribbon Commission Presuming to Tell Us That We Have No Choice About Nuclear is in direct opposition to democracy, and possibly to human survival.


Lou Zeller rightly celebrates the record of BREDL in these matters. "When you live in a free society, you get a chance to make a choice not to let them bulldoze you any more." Mary Olsen echoes this point in much of her calm and noble witness (folks should listen to and watch this amazing survivor).

BREDL truly capacitates people, just as the Nuclear Information and Resource Service does: Fact sheets, research, workshops, conferences, panels, community education, the process is never-ending, but glory redounds to Lou Zeller, Mary Olson, Janet Hoyle--who first operationalized BREDL out of her Episcopal women's group at the Holy Trinity Church in Glendale Springs, North Carolina.

"She found out through word-of-mouth what might be coming to Madison County," back in '84, "and she got DOE docs and became grassroots expert whom we invited to give us some tools to fight with. That's what we've been doing ever since. We'd act like circuit riders, going from an established base to a new community that needed guidance, help, investigation, whatever."

And if one looks at the map on the BREDL website, a sense of something like optimism, a glimmer anyway, is possible. They've gotten zero, or next to no, government funding, not a dime from the Feds I'd wager, in any event. I wouldn't be surprised to find that they would turn down Federal funds, but I'm not sure--I'll report that later.

Lou insists that the likes of folks at JustMeans see the necessity for tangible gains for communities that have been hit between the eyeballs for decades. And he justifiably beams with pride, as much as that is possible in a phone interview, that BREDL's work has helped to manifest just such real benefits at the grassroots.

"Yes we know the system is rigged, but we can still do something about it and take action getting out of your comfort zone, rolling up your sleeves. The good old boys know the way the world works, and they'll turn around in a heartbeat if they think they'll be derailed by opposition Too often, people are "opponents" who believe their own propaganda about the system.

In truth, the pro-nuke forces often "don't know diddly squat about how to organize a campaign." Thus, says Lou, "What looked like a sure thing" for TVA in NE Alabama is "no longer a done deal;" now, only one maybe, of two or three planned reactors will go through, "and they're just losing it at this point."

Still, he acknowledges that the BREDL model is only reactively proactive as it were. I ask him about people's policy leadership, about socio-political transformation that would send taxes and penalties and surcharges from utilities and polluters directly to communities--to do their own research, to set up amelioration and redress, to increase capacity, and I can hear him stop breathing. "Well, yeah, those are darned good ideas."

And that's what I am saying, to everyone who has gotten this far along in the conversation. We need a people's movement, for people power, led by the people, who believe in themselves enough to offer a popular, participatory democracy for the sham of PR-con-jobs that pass off now as a free country.

A current development in the state of Virginia readily exemplifies this qualification of Lou's and Mary's gratitude that we live in at least a semblance of a democracy. A comment by Dan Hancock, another heroic battler for the common folks from the Southwest Research and Information Center, to the BRC prefaces this contemporary nightmare that the national government intends to advance.

In "A Perspective on U.S. Nuclear Waste Policies for the Last Forty Years," Hancock writes, "The Commission is an opportunity for a significant national discussion about major nuclear waste issues for the first time in 23 years. Or it could be yet another commission that issues a report that sits on shelves and makes little real impact. Or it could be a one-sided, nuclear industry dominated effort that repackages the failed policies of the past. During the next two years of the Commission’s work, nuclear industry groups will be actively involved. But the last forty years have shown that there is very substantial public interest and concern about nuclear waste, which must be taken into account in policy discussions, as well as site-specific plans. Very significant amounts of nuclear waste are present in dozens of places around the nation at Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons sites and at commercial reactors. Transporting large amounts of waste also would impact millions of people along shipping routes. How well affected communities can effectively participate and how their input is incorporated into the Commission’s recommendations will significantly affect public perspectives about the credibility of the Commission and what should happen in the next phase of U.S. nuclear waste policy."

A fair-minded contemplation of the BRC thus far makes an optimistic assessment, thus far, seem fantastical well beyond the trek uphill to a 'Big Rock Candy Mountain.' A recent announcement about the need to stand up and speak out about a move by the State of Virginia, after a 25 year hiatus in Uranium Mining, to grant "approval for restricted uranium exploration in the state... in 2007. A National Research Council study will examine the scientific, technical, environmental, human health and safety, and regulatory aspects of uranium mining, milling, and processing as they relate to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of assisting the Commonwealth to determine whether uranium mining, milling, and processing can be undertaken in a manner that safeguards the environment, natural and historic resources, agricultural lands, and the health and well-being of its citizens."

In a sense, this announcement, just now cresting the horizon at the local level in a substantial way, will provide a bellwether about the state of democracy in the land. For unless a truly knowledgeable and empowered citizenry plays a part in the meetings coming up at the end of October, and unless folks not only have a chance to show up but also have a chance to speak and see that democratic process continues, then we will have to make a concession.

We need a deeper democracy; we need a more thoroughgoing commitment to popular involvement and grassroots education and action; we need an ongoing growth in such matters. Then, if the people truly choose the nuclear highway, so be it. Anything else is, as Madison said, "but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both."


This article serves as yet another prelude. The nature of 'waste' nuclear-industry by-products, that its supporters are always seeking to turn into salable goods, may threaten to lay waste to human kind. The risks of radiation may end up expressing the "whimper" with which, according to T.S. Elliott, the "world ends." I certainly do not pretend to know. But I would urge a much more profound caution than the executors of our nuclear future are showing.
And I will follow up this and my DU story from last week, before the year is out, with a definitive examination or two or three of these issues of rads and rems and toxins all in a merry death's brew that Barack Obama, along with the same old crowd that Dick Cheney in 2001 illicitly organized to plot out a glorious nuclear future, has decided, in secret, would be the energy future of our 'democracy.' And they will prevail unless folks begin to take a stand.

Lou Zeller and the folks at BREDL are standing up. Mary Olson stands up every day, even though you can hear the tremor of the nervous speaker every time her vocal chords vibrate. I'm writing these missives from the heart of Jimbo about the cousins out their in the world who are standing up and laying down their lives for a potential future for the children of the human experiment.

And I want to help folks to get a more 'progressive' take on doing "business better." However, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, in the rosiest measurement of its validity, assumes the premise of what it should be studying. Until citizens can manifest the social capacity to address such political machinations, and all the vast currents of illicit money that underlie such chicanery is under some semblance of public scrutiny and control, l have to state that the future of democracy, and, again, of human existence, hangs in the balance.

Lou Zeller once more adds to our comprehension of how all of this plays out, with the deep well of wisdom that thirty-odd years of serving people, even if as a individuals they might be willful and fickle and contrarian as often as not, has brought to this amazing man. "It's a theater of democracy; I mean, we know that they're biased and they've already made up their minds half the time, or more. And they know that we know. And they don't believe the majority really rules. But a roomful of people who want something a certain way means that they have to pay attention. It's not just the men at the podium who notice either. The whole world will be watching sometimes, and that groundswell is unstoppable if you can keep it going."

As my mom always said, I was "born a critic," and I'm going to say that some of the more mundane socio-economic stuff that I've noted in other essays has to show up in our theatrical output as well: the thing is, Lou Zeller agrees with most of that, I'd imagine. He just has concluded that the only way to make a movement is through "some sort of organic, grassroots growth." He'd say to me, if he weren't so polite, "You can't lecture your way to democracy."

And I know he's right. I'm a didactic son of a gun. On the other hand, am I wrong? Show me where I'm wrong. If I'm right, what are we waiting for. As an old friend of mine was wont to say many years ago, when I was three decades
younger and a lot spryer. "If you're waiting on me, you're backing up."


To an extent, the underlying point of this article is pretty easy to state. 'Any plan beats no plan.' And while the plutocrats have little compunction about dissimulation, the occasional 'sweet deal,' and a climate of corruption in which they'd sell their own families into cancerous penury if it made the systemic contradictions of capital temporarily more manageable, what the grassroots 'twelve-step' process is, beyond another version of Alcoholics Anonymous, is not clear to me.

And I can't say to anyone: "Here! Here's the plan; now we'll win." But we sure as hell better start thinking along those lines. I definitely back Lou Zeller to the hilt when he calls for "environmental stewardship." He echoes Wendell Berry there, of course, a leader before whom I blanch with humility.

Yet I have to state, without equivocation, that such a stewardship, except inasmuch as it move forward on the basis of the disappearance of about six billion of our cousins or so, or perhaps all of us--likely a painful and bloody process that I would resist, if I could, can only bloom from social justice, which is as dependent on a strong and deep and daily democracy as the rain forest is dependent on a strong and deep and regular watering of its roots.

A 'strong democracy' cannot transpire outside the development of social and political capacity, which whatever one things of the labels, must include some sense of social democracy. To an extent, doing "business better," and allowing a world to emerge in which capitalism does not explode such imperial mayhem that human populations implode like so many e-coli petri dishes doused with bleach, may necessitate something like 'eco-socialism.'

This concept, popular now among many Canadians, Europeans, Asians, Africans, Latin Americans, and, well everybody but citizens of the USA--and likely at some meta-level resonant here, but for the vicious vituperation of a certain sector of the body politic--too much tea, too many face-lifts, too much viagra, not enough love--basically combines Lou Zeller's environmental stewardship with sharing. The one is probably impossible without the other, like an 'if and only if' proposition.

Let's listen in on a precis of the volume Ecosocialism or Barbarism, to see if we discern echoes of M. Marion Hubbert, of Greg Palast, of Marcus Taylor, of Arjun Makhijani, of Don Harris, of Wendell Berry, of Bobbi Paul, of Riane Eisler, of Lou Zeller, and so on and so forth. Now, I don't know if even one of these people would ask anyone to adopt an ideology, for goodness sake. Nor am I trying to talk anybody into anything. But just listen. Maybe a conversation is in order.

The authors "argue that capitalism cannot regulate, much less overcome, the crises it has set going. It cannot solve the ecological crisis because to do so requires setting limits upon accumulation—an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die! And it cannot solve the crisis posed by terror and other forms of violent rebellion because this would mean abandoning the logic of empire, imposing unacceptable limits on growth and the “way of life” sustained by empire."

Meanwhile, the scientistic hit men and smooth talking marketers and the surreal producers of 'mediated-reality-cum-nothingness' offer harangues and blandishments and ennui, while the stock of anti-depressants grows and any real sense of joy spirals around the drain leading into a sewer so crappy that annihilation begins to look sort of attractive. And this so obviously spites the promise of renewable energy, of peoples information networks, of the dance that we can still do together.

On a more practical note, speaking of energy and the science, technology, and society interconnections that I ask my readers to integrate into their thinking, Chris Mooney has some advice to proffer here at the end of the diatribe, so to say. "If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening," he suggests.

"Whenever controversies arise that pit scientists against segments of the U.S. public... a predictable dance seems to unfold. On the one hand, the nonscientists appear almost entirely impervious to scientific data that undermine their opinions and prone to arguing back with technical claims that are of dubious merit. In response, the scientists shake their heads and lament that if only the public weren't so ignorant, these kinds of misunderstandings wouldn't occur. ...Surveys that measure the public's views...yield a huge gap between what science tells us and what the public believes. But that's not the whole story. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences convened a series of workshops on this topic over the past year and a half, and many of the scientists and other experts who participated concluded that, as much as the public misunderstands science, scientists misunderstand the public. In particular, they often fail to realize that a more scientifically informed public is not necessarily a public that will more frequently side with scientists. In other words, it appears that politics comes first on such.. contested subject(s), and better information is no cure-all -- people are likely to simply strain it through an ideological sieve. ...(T)he long-running controversy over plans to dispose of the nation's nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Although many technical experts have long argued that the repository would be safe, this has hardly convinced frightened and angry Nevadans. In 1991, the American Nuclear Energy Council even launched an ad campaign to educate the public about the Yucca Mountain plan but it backfired. Nearly a third of viewers became more resistant to the repository, and among those who were already opposed, their resolve strengthened. (Just 15 percent had a more favorable opinion of the repository after seeing the ad, and half of viewers did not change their minds.)"

Apparently, in the end, Mr. Mooney hands out some PR advice to those who think they have better science concerning a certain sort of lethal poison that, arguably, we ought to stop creating. And he might very well hope that his ideas can get the 'ignorant' among us just to shut up. But just by proposing the radical idea of 'listening'--in Community-Based Participatory Research, a social democratic model for generating evidence that is not only equitable but also accurate, "listening sessions" are the start of any investigation--shifts as tectonic as those feared at Yucca Mountain might occur, though positive in their outcomes.

Perhaps some of the scientific elite will learn better science from Mary Olson and Lou Zeller, just as Marion King Hubbert predicted about some of the posers more interested in obtaining power than in understanding nature. Or, perhaps, the socio-economic underpinnings of so-called science will be obvious enough to allow us to reshape our understanding in ways at once less ideological and more ecological and deeply human.
A twenty year old Nation editorial illustrates what I am seeking to give to my readers as a penultimate note, that the people in the position to call themselves scientists need to avail themselves of listening in order to observe their own errors. Once again, can we listen?

"No Federal agency has more eagerly protected a corrupt, bankrupt industry than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). From its beginning in the mid-1970s, when it inherited the dubious mantle of the old Atomic Energy Commission, the NRC has done all in its power to smooth the way for the pushers of atomic energy. Now the NRC may have outdone even itself. It is advocating a new set of regulations under the rubric "below regulatory concern," or BRC, that will exclude certain types of radioactive waste from special treatment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that BRC could save the nuclear industry $30 million or more annually."

Another BRC is upon us, and it will yield equally vicious results as the last one unless something shifts--and not the public's mind, either, but something more profound. Lou Zeller summarizes: "We've go to face up to the fact that we're responsible, and that it's going to take an even deeper political involvement. This is very applicable to every single step of the nuclear 'fuel' cycle, obviously, where horrible environmental and public health impacts, death and disease, are a given at every point, with the only question the number allowed to die."

I can hear him smile, I swear to God, two hundred miles away up in the hills. "That's not the way any of it has to be though, hopelessness, death, and doom. You see, it always turns out that there is a better way."

Photo Credits:
Joe Hill: The Joe Hill Project
Nuclear Energy resistance: Axis of Logic
Nuclear Waste barrels: Belfer Center/AP
Rods: Virginia Places
Diane McFarlane: MIT World
Declaration of Independence: Mike Renlund
Tuskegee Syphilis Study letter: public domain
Dick Cheney headline: Newsweek