Nevada Test Site Protest

The connections between those protesting nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site and those protesting the construction of the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain are stronger than one supposes. Among the most prominent Test Site protest organizations are the following:

1) Nevada Desert Experience / Lenten Desert Experience

2) American Peace Test

3) Citizen Alert

4) Atomic Veterans

5) Greenpeace

6) Hundredth Monkey

7) Sagebrush Alliance (defunct)

8) Western Shoshone

The merging of pacifist nuclear-weapons protest with protest against nuclear waste disposal was apparent from the beginning as activists in the Southwest banded together to form the Cactus Alliance.

CACTUS ALLIANCE Over the weekend of 1-2 October, 1977, people from the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada came together with the intention of forming a regional alliance of groups working against all aspects of nuclear energy and weaponry. We were successful and are happy to share with you the results. Naming ourselves the Cactus Alliance, we identify with our western mountain states region, as well as with the struggle throughout the United States and the world.

The Cactus Alliance is a coalition of citizens dedicated to the betterment of life through the advancement of ideals and values of respect for life and health, and of sensitivity to the earth and its systems. These bring us into opposition with:

* the high cost and risks, especially health risks, of nuclear energy.

* the introduction or radioactive wastes into the environment, and

* the production, proliferation, and use of nuclear weapons.

We actively support the alternatives of strict conservation practices, the redirection of technology to meet human needs, and the full development of alternative energy sources along with decentralization of energy systems. To this end, we pledge to further our goals by means of education, communication, direct action, and community organizing. . . . [Anna Gyorgy and friends; No Nukes: Everyone's Guide To Nuclear Power, South End Press, 1979]

Among other books published by South End Press at that time were Science, Technology and Marxism (Stanley Aronowitz), Ecology as Politics (Andre Gorz), and The Sun Betrayed: The Corporate Seizure of Solar Energy (Ray Reece). Clearly the mood at the time was one of intertwined Marxist and decentralist ideas in the process of merging through application to environmental and technological issues.

Among the members of the Cactus Alliance at its formation was the Sagebrush Alliance, a Nevada group that later proved effective in opposing the MX missile system which was proposed for Nevada. Members of the Sagebrush Alliance eventually merged with Citizen Alert as the MX missile issue was resolved.

Protests at the Nevada Test Site over weapons testing only began in earnest after the formation of the Lenten Experience, later known as the Nevada Desert Experience. Franciscan Louis Vitale and sister Rosemary Lynch were critical in starting the Lenten Desert Experience. Friar Vitale's 1978 tour of the test site evidently sparked the idea of a Franciscan vigil on the road to Mercury, Nevada.

Questions of Soviet involvement in the Test Site protests were raised in a 1983 article written by Mary Manning who interviewed an outgoing DOE official:


The U.S. Department of Energy has evidence the Soviet Union is supporting some of the growing anti-nuclear protests at the Nevada Test Site, retiring Nevada Operations Manager Thomas Clark said Wednesday, but local activists say they have no Russian ties.

Spokesmen for such local peace groups as American Peace Test, Clergy and Laity Concerned and Nevada Desert Experience vehemently denied communist ties, either funding or moral support. . . .

"The communists are supporting some of these protestors here, and doing so very aggressively," Clark said. "That's bad news."

Asked who collected proof for DOE, Clark replied, "All you have to do is go out there and buy a copy of "The Daily Worker.'" The Daily Worker is a Communist Party of the U.S. newspaper.

Clark also refused to name government agencies that have linked test site protestors to communist sympathizers, but offered a letter written on State Department stationery by Kathleen C. Baily, the wife of Dr. Robert Barker, the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear energy and a liason between the DOE and the Defense Department.

The letter contained information linking 15 of 60 Danish students who visited Las Vegas April 23 to 25 with communist youth groups.

However, Judy Treichel, coordinator of Clergy and Laity Concerned, said the Danish Communist Party is not tied to the Soviet Union.

"Everybody thinks it's an automatic Soviet tie, but some new communist groups are working in the communal sense of that word and don't want any super-power attachments . . . " [Manning, Mary; Las Vegas Sun, July 2, 1987, p 1A]

Of course, in 1983, the Cold War was still very much a reality and attempts by citizen's groups to affect weapons testing, no matter how sincere, were still threats to national security. It is not apparent whether there was any Russian support for the disruption campaigns engaged in by the members of the Cactus Alliance and the Sagebrush Alliance, however it is unlikely the Soviets would have been ignorant of such an opportunity. Attempts to pursue a Freedom of Information Act request on this subject met with limited success but obviously deserve to be pursued.

Later, the national FREEZE Campaign, which also proposed moratoriums on nuclear testing, made its presence known in Nevada, eventually spawning the American Peace Test (APT).

"The August 1985 Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) action was the event which inspired the APT. Although the desire for direct action had been growing within the FREEZE Campaign, it was this action which provided the inspiration for Nancy Hale and Jessie Cocks to convince others of what they saw as an opportunity at the NTS. . . .

Hale commented on the August NDE action where she explained that daily diversions do not exist in the desert. She indicated it provided the experience to combine intellectuality with spirituality, and if that experience could be recreated for others, then a successful campaign would be possible."

[Mann, David; The Historical Origins of the American Peace Test, masters thesis Dept. of Pol. Sci., University of Nevada Las Vegas, 1991]

While the original protestors from Nevada Desert Experience had been strictly pacifist, more activist groups like Greenpeace also began joining the protest marches and added to the ranks that American Peace Test had brought into the fray. An important history of these events has been provided by Michael Affleck of the Nevada Desert Experience, The History And Strategy of the Campaign to End Nuclear Weapons Testing at the Nevada Test Site, 1977 - 1990. Near the center of this protest had been Judy Treichel. According to Affleck:

Judy Treichel was a member of a union associated with NTS and a Mormon, who was working locally for a test ban. Judy had worked on the first LDE and had taken considerable risk within her religious community for her outspoken views on social issues. She was influential in organizing the second LDE. [Afleck, Michael; The History And Strategy of the Campaign to End Nuclear Weapons Testing at the Nevada Test Site, 1977 - 1990, Nevada Desert Experience, 1991]

It is little wonder that Treichel's views as the information officer for the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office were biased by her previous anti-test site activist history. It is also unlikely Bob Loux, executive director of NWPO, was blind to this activity when he chose the Nuclear Waste Task Force to provide information on the Yucca Mountain repository to Nevadans. Treichel thus provides the first link between the NTS protest movement and protest of the repository. More generally, Citizen Alert as parent to the Nuclear Waste Task Force has long been heavily involved in supporting anti-NTS protest

The religious, environmental, indigenous people and pacifist motivations of Yucca Mountain and Nevada Test Site protestors were summed up in the Healing Global Wounds campaign of 1992. Sponsored by Citizen Alert, American Peace Test, Nevada Desert Experience and Walk Across America for Mother Earth, this protest at the Nevada Test Site neatly combines all the philosophical threads evident in the non-scientific anti-repository movement. Especially interesting was an article from the event newsletter:


culminates our international Walk Across America For Mother Earth

Ever since Columbus' arrival 500 years ago, there has been a terrible disparity between the "discoverer's" and Native People's attitudes towards care of the Earth and respect for Life. Traditional Indegenous Peoples see the Creation as a home, a sacred "Thou" to take care of, to respect and love; contemporarry "Industrial Peoples," on the contrary, regard Nature as a mere "It", a warehouse or resources to be used and exploited to suit their own ends, regardless of the effects upon the environment and other living beings. Nowhere is this difference in world views more obvious than in today's struggle over nuclear weapons. Although humankind has inhabited this planet for millions of years, in just the past fifty years has so-called "civilized man" poisoned vast areas of the Earth, making them uninhabitable - such as through manufacturing and testing nuclear weapons.

No "Industrial Governments" test nuclear weapons on their own lands. All test bombs on Indigenous People's lands.

[Walk Across America for Mother Earth Newsletter, Issue Five, August 1992, p1]

A similar argument applies at Yucca Mountain, that "Industrial Peoples" are supposedly harming Mother Earth, and "indigenous Peoples" by poisoning the land. In a purely logical sense, combined protest of weapons testing and nuclear waste makes little sense. As the discovery of Iraq's accumulations of calutron separators for uranium processing shows, separating bomb grade plutonium from spent fuel or natural sources is not something an arm-chair chemist can do in his garage. Nuclear waste is not bomb-making material and halting the building of the nuclear waste repository is not inherently linked to weapons control. Nevertheless, the quasi-religious belief of anti-nuclear activists that all radioactive substances are environmentally evil and a social justice directed against indigenous peoples has motivated not only their opposition to nuclear weapons of war, but also peaceful nuclear technology as well.