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Sonoma County Museum to showcase Bodega Bay nuke plant battle

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The Sonoma County Museum takes a close look at one of history’s best-known environmental crusades with its current exhibit, “Hole in the Head,” which opened Nov. 2.

Subtitled “The Battle for Bodega Bay and the Birth of the Environmental Movement,” the exhibit tells the story of the ultimately successful campaign to block the building of a proposed nuclear power plant at Bodega Head.

“I would emphasize that, though it is a very localized topic, the significance of the fight over the power plant extends far and wide,” said History Curator Eric Stanley of the Sonoma County Museum.

Raging roughly from 1958 to 1964, the battle ended with Pacific Gas and Electric announcing it would no longer pursue its plans for a plant on the Sonoma County coast.

“The fight would initiate the anti-nuclear power movement nationally; it would draw in the interest of state and federal officials, including the secretary of the interior,” Stanley said.

“The tactics and precedent set at Bodega are one of the big reasons that the California coast is not lined with nuclear plants.”

The protest and debate involved a wide array of combatants, including scientists, students, atomic energy commissioners, communists, libertarians, ranchers, a museum director, PG&E, government officials from the state and local level, the Sierra Club and the leadership of the University of California.

One of the leaders of the protest was retired Petaluma veterinarian Bill Kortum, who rose over time to leadership in the California environmental and conservation movement.

“You have only to look at the legacy of people like Bill Kortum,” Stanley added. “The Bodega fight put Bill on the path of preserving the coast, including the fight over coastal access with Sea Ranch and ultimately the establishment of the California Coastal Commission. These are legacies that stem from the Bodega fight.”

The “Hole in the Head” exhibit, which runs through Feb. 9, 2015, traces the struggle with text, documents, photographs and artifacts.

Sonoma County Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday, The museum is at 425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa.

Admission: $5 to 7, free for children 12 and younger. Information: 579-1500, sonomacountymuseum.org.

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