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Activists recount pioneering win over nuclear power on Sonoma Coast Activists recount pioneering win over nuclear power on Sonoma Coast

The anti-nuclear activists standing in the rain Saturday morning at Bodega Head displayed some similarities to a pair of cyclists pedaling south a few miles away on Highway 1: Both parties were resolute, exposed and increasingly getting drenched.

The activists had come to Bodega Bay to remember two long-ago battles against nuclear power and to consider how their future struggles could affect global efforts to safely reduce greenhouse gases and limit climate change.

One past struggle resulted in a striking victory, forcing the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in 1964 to halt plans for a proposed nuclear plant on the very spot the soggy activists stood: Bodega Head. That triumph has long been described as a major advancement for what became California's environmental movement, a force that, among other things, passed a voter initiative to preserve the state's coastline.

However, the second campaign failed in the early 1980s to stop the construction of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant near San Luis Obispo. That plant, which opened in 1985 and is now the sole operating nuclear facility in California, was slated this summer for closure by 2025, when its permits expire.

One aim for Saturday's gathering was “for the Bodega generation to talk to the Diablo generation,” said Mark Evanoff, one of the event's organizers.

The gathering drew about 80 participants, many of them veteran anti-nuclear activists who had protested decades before at Diablo Canyon.

About 40 guests braved the rain, and the entire group assembled for speeches, lunch and breakout sessions at the Bodega Bay Grange.

Among those present was Darlene Comingore, a former resident of western Sonoma County best known for her role in one of the biggest political upsets in North Coast history. In 1990, Comingore won 14 percent of the vote as the Peace & Freedom candidate in the 1st Congressional District. She took enough votes from incumbent Rep. Doug Bosco, a Democrat, that Republican Frank Riggs squeaked to victory with less than a 1 percent margin.

Comingore, now a Davis resident, said Saturday's gathering touched on a key part of her life, a time when she had been a college student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“I cut my political teeth on Diablo Canyon,” she said.

Mary Moore, a longtime county activist and one of the event's organizers, said the day was intended partly to honor the many efforts that activists went on to pursue after battling the nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo. Among other things, those activists protested the Rancho Seco nuclear plant built southeast of Sacramento, blockaded Livermore Labs and, starting in 1980 near Monte Rio, demonstrated against the nation's male power brokers who encamped each summer at the Bohemian Grove.

“It all stemmed from Diablo,” said Moore, herself an early leader in the Bohemian Grove Action Network.

Looking forward to Diablo's planned closure, two speakers Saturday told the audience that California must show the world it can shut down a nuclear plant without turning to coal, oil or natural gas to meet the state's energy needs.

By doing so, “we really pierce a big hole in the argument” of those climate change advocates who suggest that perhaps nuclear power should remain part of the solution to ending reliance on fossil fuels, said Carl Zichella, a senior policy advocate in Sacramento with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Tom Athanasiou, executive director of the Berkeley think tank Eco Equity, said a nuclear-free future requires providing sufficient amounts of renewable energy around the world because energy increasingly is seen as a human right. Cutting fossil fuel consumption without nuclear power will require fairness, he said, and “it's going to be really, really hard.”

On Saturday, the veterans were reminded that the Bodega Head battle was begun mostly by county residents, who then were able to link up with key outside allies.

Doria Sloan, then a Sebastopol homemaker, recalled a breakthrough when Pierre Saint-Amand, then a geophysicist at the China Lake naval station, heard about the proposed nuclear plant and offered to view the site because of its proximity to the San Andreas Fault.

Sloan, who herself went on to become a University of California geology professor, now retired, said she drove Saint-Amand to Bodega Head on a rainy day, which was a good thing since the construction site had been left open and unattended.

There, Saint-Amand viewed the work underway, including a reactor pit reaching 142 feet across - still present and known as the “hole in the head.”

Saint-Amand soon identified what would be the project's fatal flaw, namely an earthquake fault running “straight through the reactor pit,” Sloan said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit

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