Five protesters stood outside General Electric's corporate headquarters in Fairfield on Monday to urge GE to stop building nuclear power plants, saying the disaster in Japan - and earlier disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island - prove they are not safe.
"I do not want any more nuclear plants, and I want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to decommission all the American plants," said Wendy Hamilton, a New Haven resident and retired nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital. "They are just too damn dangerous."
Hamilton, who donned a surgical mask during the hour-long protest, said she had read a great deal about Chernobyl and nuclear power in general and believes people haven't learned enough to warrant construction of nuclear power plants. She said 104 nuclear power plants are in America and a few are on earthquake fault lines. "We've already had two bad accidents now, and people should be more convinced nuclear power plants are a mistake," she said. "It's not a viable answer to our peak oil problem. Nuclear energy is too damn dangerous and we're going to wipe out the species if we play around with it."
Hamilton said she was protesting at GE's corporate headquarters on Easton Turnpike because GE had built nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Japan, which failed after an earthquake and tsunami, and wanted to build more in America. She said her concern was "the health of Americans and the health of the species, the human species."
"The recorded history of humans is 6,000 years, and we're dealing with spent fuel rods that are going to be dangerous for 30,000 years. It doesn't make sense," Hamilton said, adding that a proper disposal method for nuclear waste material did not exist.
James Duarte of New Haven, another protester, had similar reasons for going to GE. "To protest them for building these things," he said. "They're responsible for building the plants."
Nancy Burton was more direct in her criticism of GE, saying the Fairfield-based company "designed and built and profited handsomely from the six Mark 1 boiling water nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi." (Editor's note: Full disclosure: Nancy Burton has written several articles on Fairfield Patch not related to nuclear power.)
"General Electric knowingly sold and built them on the coastline in an earthquake and tsunami-prone region," Burton said. "And General Electric knowingly sold and built them even after three of its nuclear engineers publicly resigned citing dangerous shortcomings in GE's designs."
A spokesman for GE was not available Monday afternoon to respond to the protest and the protesters' allegations.
According to a report from Reuters on Monday, radiation at the six-reactor Fukushima complex "has soared in recent days," with contamination 100,000 times normal in water at one reactor and 1,850 times normal in a nearby sea. Evidence of radiation also is in tap water in Tokyo 150 miles away, and four of the six plants are still seen as volatile, according to the Reuters report.
Burton said GE is now "revving up to unleash its latest nuclear technology" in India against the will of that country's citizens. She said President Barack Obama was "corrupting the English language" when he calls nuclear power clean and safe and hadn't been educated on "the horrors of Fukushima."
"We must bring an end to this nuclear madness, this perpetuation of nuclear energy," Burton said. "As we have seen over the past two weeks so frighteningly, billions of dollars of investment in a few hours can turn into billions of dollars of liabilities." She said the cost of the Fukushima disaster in economic terms came to $200 billion to $300 billion.
"General Electric, which proclaimed healthy revenues last year while it paid nothing in federal taxes, has announced that it has sent $5 million in aid to Japan to relieve its people's suffering. $5 million," Burton said. "Do not shame us any further, General Electric. You have embarrassed us profoundly."
Lee Evans, another protester, said GE ought to concentrate on wind, solar and geothermal energy and get out of nuclear power. She said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had extended the license on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant despite public opposition, and Hamilton said the NRC hadn't rejected "a single license renewal application" and that the Vermont Yankee plant was aging and leaking.
Evans said nuclear power plants weren't designed to sustain the impact of a large airliner and that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would have been even more devastating if planes had struck Indian Point reactors.
Burton held 1,000 origami cranes as she spoke, which she said symbolized a Japanese belief that if you create 1,000 cranes, a single crane will appear and grant your wish. She said a child who died from the effects of Hiroshima had begun to make 1,000 cranes but didn't reach that number before she died.
After the protesters spoke, they walked in a circle in silence for several minutes, as cars and trucks whizzed by on Easton Turnpike after leaving the busy Merritt Parkway. The protesters also held a moment of silence, Burton said, to "send hope, prayers, a sense of solidarity, sadness and our sense of culpability in what has happened to our friend and neighbor, Japan."