The Tower that Toppled a Terrible Technology: How the Anti-Nuke Movement Was Born
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This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
There it stood, 500 feet of insult and injury. And then it crashed to the ground.
The weather tower at the proposed Montague double-reactor complex was meant to test wind direction in case of an accident. In early 1974, the project was estimated at $1.35 billion, as much as double the entire assessed value of all the real estate in this rural Connecticut Valley town, 90 miles west of Boston.
Then---39 years ago this week---Sam Lovejoy knocked it down.
Lovejoy lived at the old Liberation News Service farm, four miles from the site. Montague’s population of about 7,500 included a growing number of “hippie communes.” As documented in Ray Mungo’s Famous Long Ago, this one was born of a radical news service that had been infiltrated by the FBI, promoting a legendary split that led the founding faction to flee to rural Massachusetts.
And thus J. Edgar Hoover---may he spin in his grave over this one---became an inadvertent godfather to the movement against nuclear power.
When the local utility announced it would build atomic reactors on the eastern shore of the Connecticut River, 180 miles north of New York City, they thought they were waltzing into a docile rural community. But many of the local communes were pioneering a new generation’s movement for organic farming, and were well-stocked with seasoned activists still working in the peace and civil rights movements. Radioactive fallout was not in synch with our new-found aversion to chemical sprays and fertilizers. Over the next three decades, this reborn organic ethos would help spawn a major on-going shift in the public view toward holistic food that continues today.
For those of us at Montague Farm, the idea of two gargantuan reactors four miles from our lovely young children, Eben and Sequoyah, our pristine one-acre garden and glorious maple sugar bush...all this and more prompted two clear, uncompromising words: NO NUKES!
We printed the first bumper stickers, drafted pamphlets and began organizing.
Nobody believed we could beat a massive corporation with more money than Lucifer. An initial poll showed three-quarters of the town in favor of the jobs, tax breaks and excitement the reactors would bring.
For us, one out of four of our neighbors was a pretty good start.
But nationwide, when Richard Nixon said there’d be 1,000 US reactors by the year 2000, nobody doubted him. Nuclear power was a popular assumption, a given supported by a large majority of the world’s population. We needed a jolt to get our movement off the ground.
That would be the tower. All day and night it blinked on and off, ostensibly in warning to small planes flying in and out of the Turners Falls Airport. But it also stood as a symbol of arrogance and oppression, a steel calling card from a corporation that could not care less about our health, safety or organic well-being.
So at 4 am on Washington’s Birthday (which back then was still February 22), Sam knocked it down. In a feat of mechanical daring many of us still find daunting, he carefully used a crow bar to unfasten one...then two...then a third turnbuckle. The wires on the other two sides of the triangulated support system then pulled down six of the tower’s seven segments, leaving just one 70-foot stump still standing. It was so loud, Sam said, he was “amazed the whole town didn’t wake up.”
But this was the Montague Plains, the middle of nowhere. Sam ran to the road and flagged down the first car---it happened to be a police cruiser---and asked for a ride to the Turners Falls station. Atomic energy, said his typed statement, was dangerous, dirty, expensive, unneeded and, above all, a threat to our children. Tearing down the tower was a legitimate means of protecting the community.