by Jon Chase (Quaker Silverbacks)
Forgive me if I can’t recall which of my several protests of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant came first; that was 45 years ago! But neighbors of mine at Newton Corner got me interested, and I joined them for a couple of early protests in the late 1970’s, before nuclear power became a national issue. Meldrim Thompson was governor of NH at that time, and he pushed hard for nuclear power. The state liquor stores distributed literature advocating a nuclear plant, but there was no alternative view available. So two of my neighbors and I walked into a store and handed out anti-nuclear literature. We were quickly arrested, and spent the night at the Hillsborough County Jail. Many months later we were advised to appeal our arrest in court, which we did successively, winning a judgement of $1,000 apiece.
In 1977, I was one of over 2,000 protestors who occupied the site of the Seabrook plant. We had non-violent training, and formed into affinity groups for support, between 12-15 people in each. I do recall the glorious, shared euphoria we all felt as we stepped onto the site and realized that our well-planned takeover had succeeded…at least for the moment.
We spent the night camped in tents, but dawn brough the reality that our bold occupation was short-lived, as hundreds of state police from all six N.E. states descended on our campsites and hauled us away.
We were taken to tractor trailers initially, before being transferred to school buses and driven to National Guard armories across the state. I was with a group enclosed in a hot, airless, trailer, the door shut, with no light. We were packed in like sardines, literally shoulder to shoulder, with no room to sit or lie down. To say it was claustrophobic is a gross understatement; after an hour some people had trouble breathing, and there were several mild panic attacks. We finally convinced a guard at the door to open it a few inches, and we took turns squeezing to the front for some precious breaths of fresh air. I didn’t wear a watch in those days, so I don’t know exactly how long we were there, but it was many hours, and it took a conscious effort on all our parts to stay calm, though several people broke down and needed to be comforted.
I was shipped to the armory in Manchester, the largest armory of all, and spent several days there; others spent up to two weeks, I believe. We slept in our sleeping bags, were fed, even getting our demand for vegetarian meals, and organized. Initially we were all separated by sex, but that quickly fell by the wayside. Spirits were high, especially after hearing the news and realizing we had put Seabrook on the national map and made nuclear power a legitimate, big-time issue.
Most of us received $100 fines for trespassing. I chose not to pay mine, opting instead to work it off at the Brentwood County County House of Correction at the rate of $5 a day, for 20 days. It was a good experience, though not always easy. It did result in my jailhouse photo being published with my story on the front page of my local Newton Times, thanks to friend Roy DiTosti, who surreptitiously took my photo with his Leica tucked beneath his shirt. It was all for a good cause, and resulted in vivid memories of a movement that years later proved to have a lasting impact.
State police escort the reactor vessel for the Seabrook Nuclear Plant, arriving on a flatbed truck, 1979
2 years later in 1979 the nuclear accident at 3 mile island occurred. I was manager of the home office of a bank in Lititz PA where we lived about 23 miles east of the reactor, downwind. My best man at our wedding called from NJ and asked if I wanted to bring my pregnant wife and 18 month old son to his house – all pregnant women within 20 miles were being told evacuate, so I drove them down after work and returned home. The next day the Federal Reserve sent armored trucks to all the banks in the county with shrink wrapped bundles of $10’s and $20’s we hadn’t even asked for. They were right because there was a run on bank deposits. No one knew how bad it was going to get or when they would be able to return, and most people and banks didn’t have ATMs so they had to take cash with them. We never had time to put millions of dollars in the vault – we stacked it on the floor behind the teller line (we had 8 teller windows) as hundreds of customers poured in to withdraw some or all of their funds. The Fed’s decision prevented a panic because every bank had enough cash to satisfy customers. Within a day or two I lost half my tellers as husbands or parents insisted they leave the area. Remember President Carter in little blue booties walking around near the reactor? In months and years that followed we learned the accident was worse than what we were being told
Living on the Seacoast at the time, I clearly remember the Seabrook nuke protests. Being at home with young children and a very full life, I envied the protesters and supported their mission. Writing letters to newspapers and politicians was the best I could do to support them at the time. It all seems like yesterday and the Seabrook plant is still our unfortunate and aging neighbor down the coast a bit.