a discussion with the anti-nuclear activist and founder of Rock the Reactors in Norwalk, Connecticut
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is your involvement in the environmental movement political?
REMY CHEVALIER — It’s become political.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think that public consciousness can evolve enough to actually be a factor in solving the nuclear problem?
REMY CHEVALIER — You can get used to having a time bomb in the back room. It doesn’t go off, so you forget about it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In the ’70s there were anti-nuclear positions expressed in music, in culture, in artwork, in the avant-garde, in everything. Now when you talk with young people about the issue, they don’t seem to care. How do you explain this?
REMY CHEVALIER — There are two very simple reasons. The first is that the environmental movement, in the ’70s, actually grew out of the opposition to nuclear power. The second reason is that solar energy and wind energy alternatives came from grassroots guys who started building solar systems and wind systems in opposition to nuclear power. Then, as those alternative systems became more economically feasible — because they were selling something people wanted — those companies became corporate and they started to have to work with the utilities. A solar company has to work with the utilities simply in order to put up their system — to get the net metering, the rebate, for power to go to transmission lines. And there was the camaraderie of union members, et cetera. So, slowly but surely, solar and wind energy became something that had nothing to do with shutting down nuclear power. They became energy sources like any other. Plus, about ten or 15 years ago the nuclear power industry took advantage of the global warming issue. They spent a considerable amount of money so that school textbooks taught kids that nuclear was clean and green, that it was the solution to global warming because it didn’t put out carbon emissions — which is a patent lie! So 17-year-olds came out of high school thinking nuclear energy is a clean energy. When I started telling 17-year-olds about alternative energy, they would say, “Oh, you mean solar, wind, and nuclear.” You know, I’m not a violent guy, but you, like, want to slap them. So we have to start from scratch. If you’re in your mid-20s now, in order to see what’s going on in Japan, you should look back at the No Nuke concerts and ask yourself why all these hippie musicians were so much against nuclear power. When a reactor goes pop it’s more painful and disastrous than anything.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think the 2011 nuclear catastrophe in Japan is likely to change the situation?
REMY CHEVALIER — There were many more accidents that weren’t publicized. Greenpeace has documented many near misses, foul-ups, and leaks. We’re polluting our biosphere with radioactive isotopes that never existed in nature before we produced them. We adapt to life in a toxic environment. I think portions of the population are getting stronger, more intense, more powerful, et cetera. But, others are disappearing. It’s not just about accidents. It’s the waste dumps, the nuclear manufacturing — the places where uranium is enriched. There are pools and pools of nuclear matter leaking, evaporating, and contaminating rivers and ground in swatches of land all over this country. It’s a nuclear wasteland.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is waste the main problem?
REMY CHEVALIER — It’s a big part of it. But the real problem is the toxification of our bio-electromagnetic environment. We’re being assaulted by waves that didn’t exist before. We’re generating millions of watts for TV, for cell phones — for everything. Young children are affected by it. Here in western Connecticut they built a cell phone tower along the courtyard of an elementary and junior high school.
OLIVIER ZAHM — If we were able to stop the use of nuclear energy, we might be able to change the current economic model.
REMY CHEVALIER — People need to comprehend the urgency. We know that global warming is an urgent problem. But nuclear energy is at the root of our energy problems. At the end of World War II a lot of critical choices were made. We went with nuclear power plants, because we needed a pretext to produce uranium and plutonium, and we got locked into nuclear energy. Then in 1947, Truman passed the National Secrecy Act, the Atomic Secrecy Act, and the Invention Secrecy Act, and the CIA pretty much became the controller of scientific information.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did they really control everything?
REMY CHEVALIER — There’s engineering conferences going on everywhere — guys from Boeing and Lockheed to General Electric, et cetera, saying it’s time to get together. Their papers go through a six-month CIA review process before they’re published, because the CIA doesn’t want anything critical to national security spilled. So, in energy conversion technology the public domain is 20, 30, or maybe even 40 years behind the military and DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. You understand the implication. We’ve created a culture of secrecy and oppression that prohibits access to this technology. But the cat’s out of the bag because of Google and YouTube. The government is terrified of the consequences. We have amazing technology kept as an ace in the hole, in case we have another World War. They’re afraid of a war with China or Russia. Like during the Cold War, they’re repressing technology for the sole purpose of being ready — the military mentality hasn’t changed.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Isn’t there a common link between the military and civilian use of nuclear energy?
REMY CHEVALIER — If it weren’t for public nuclear power, the military would never have gotten the resources to build bombs. But even they got locked into a vicious circle they couldn’t get out of. Now there’s actually dissent within military ranks over whether to go public with new scientific data. America’s in the pits because we’ve given everything away, nuclear power and electronics to Japan, batteries and light-emitting diodes to China. We’re not making anything new of note that we can use on a day-to-day, commercial basis.
If we don’t get America’s economy back on its feet, things will have to come from military technology transfer. It’s a very tricky situation.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Has America stopped its nuclear program?
REMY CHEVALIER — It was forced to. France hasn’t built a new plant in a long time, either. Germany stopped, too.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And Japan?
REMY CHEVALIER — Well, Japan wants to stop. Whether they’ll be able to isn’t certain. Don’t forget, General Electric owns TEPCO. It will be up to the Japanese people.
They’ve always wanted to stop. In France, about three years ago, Stéphane Lhomme created the national organization, Sortir du Nucléaire, based in Marseille. It brings together the many little groups that protest against reactors, people who fight against reactors in their provinces, all over France — which is very much like what’s going on in the States. EDF, France’s electricity and gas utility company, was very upset with Lhomme because he brought together 800,000 anti-nuclear people. So they arrested him on the bogus charge that he’d released secret documentation. It wasn’t secret information — it was culled from the Internet. Lhomme brought the nuclear issue to the forefront. What’s going on in America is very similar. Previously, little groups fought a lot of local battles where nuclear power stations were located.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you tell me more about your own anti-nuclear efforts?
REMY CHEVALIER — With Sherwood Martinelli and other people, we created Rock the Reactors and Green Nuclear Butterfly and started redoing what Clamshell Alliance did in 1966 in Minnesota, Chicago, and California. I went looking for the most vulnerable nuclear power plants. The issue wasn’t simply technological, it was social, political, and emotional, and it still is. The most venerable one was Indian Point, 30 miles from Manhattan. We wanted to shut it down, because we thought that if we could shut that one down a domino effect might take hold. Because we could get them there — it’s their Achilles’ heel. But the resistance to shutting down Indian Point became ten times stronger, because they saw us coming. And it’s still like that. So if we win at Indian Point, they’ll have to reanalyze what nuclear power means. I have a standing offer with GE’s Edgelab, their think tank, to bring all the GE nuclear scientists and all the anti-nuclear scientists together in a room to work out what might be the future of nuclear power. Everybody wants to come. But GE’s engineers won’t come. We need a major win to bring them to the table. We need them at the table to start dealing with the issues. The polarity is strong, and the anti-nuclear people have ideas and solutions. The pro-nuclear guys are blind. They have no understanding of human dynamics. They don’t understand bio-electromagnetism. They have no spirituality and no ideas.
OLIVIER ZAHM — The accident in Japan made me realize that this is an historical moment and that we need to adopt alternative energies. Has it changed people’s opinion in countries like China, India, and Turkey?
REMY CHEVALIER — The people in those countries don’t want nuclear energy, either. They’re being forced into having it by the Franco-American nuclear industry. Who do you think is building the plant in Iran? The French and American nuclear-industrial cartels run the ship, because they’re tied in with DOE and DOD. That world of energy and defense is the shadow government that controls the evolution of world energy and world power. Oil, coal, and nuclear are a triad, that’s against solar, wind, geothermal, and all the other alternative energies. The camps are polarized, in something like a fight for survival.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think that it’s possible to change things?
REMY CHEVALIER — It’s possible. But there’s also a chance that we’re going to be picking up the pieces. I’ve reverted to pretty much believing that we’re fucked. But, you know, every new generation is going to want to prove me wrong. If we can shut down nuclear power, to a certain extent that will pressure the nuclear industry people to start releasing the stuff they’ve been sitting on, stuff they’ve kept hidden so they can make money easier.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’m not an expert, but the most convincing idea to me is to stop having a centralized energy source and start thinking locally. What we have now are micro-solutions. But what other source of energy is as powerful as nuclear energy? Do we need a new source of energy? Or do we need to change the way we distribute and use energy?
REMY CHEVALIER — Even if you create your own little paradise, the rotting crust is going to keep growing, and if you don’t do something about it, it’s going to contaminate what you’re doing. That’s what’s happened: we’ve created an amazing green consumer culture that’s oblivious to the old oil, coal, and nuclear culture that keeps growing and rotting everything. And now, too, we’re hearing from California farmers who are concerned about nuclear fallout from an accident that happened an ocean away. These farmers need to get involved with the anti-nuclear movement. They need to take responsibility for their own future.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How?
REMY CHEVALIER — Taking away nuclear power will liberate us, but we’ll also need a base-load of power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. We need ways to store electricity. Solar and wind by themselves won’t do it, because you need to have storage capacity — we need to work on that. New industries have to gear up. There’s a plan that uses a salt solution, which is very cheap to produce. Essentially, you have these pools of water and you put the solution in it. It can store gigantic amounts of electricity for a penny, but only overnight, so you can use it at night. Which means that if every wind farm and every solar cell generator had some of these pools attached to it…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Don’t we also have to start using less energy?
REMY CHEVALIER — We are using less and less. Ten years ago tape recorders like the one you’re using now used ten times the number of batteries. A TV set with a LED screen uses 10 percent of the electricity a 39-inch cathode ray tube screen uses. LED lights use 90 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. We’re retrofitting everything. California reduces its electrical consumption every year, via conservation and better efficiency, and from LED light-emitting diode retrofits. It costs money but it pays for itself. If you put LEDs in your home or business, they’ll pay for themselves in a year. Twenty percent of the electrical consumption of the United States goes for lighting roads and highways and cities — at night. Ten years ago all the buildings in the Manhattan skyline kept their lights on at night. Then managers got wise and turned off the lights at night, and put everything on automatic timers. The only things you see at night now in the windows of Manhattan’s skyscrapers are pilot lights,
so that birds and planes don’t crash into
them. Tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity have been saved in cities all over the country simply because we rethought the way we light buildings at night. Factory spaces that use lights in the day put in skylights. Simple stuff.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Obama was thinking of restarting the nuclear program.
REMY CHEVALIER — Yeah, because Obama is a product of the nuclear power industry. When he began his campaign, the majority of his financing came from Exelon, a nuclear power company. He kept that very quiet, and he made a few promises, which he about-faced on once he was elected. It was a con job.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But can’t we be optimistic? You’ve devoted most of your life to green activism. Are you discouraged? Shall we come to terms with this apocalyptic vision of the future?
REMY CHEVALIER — Some of us can be optimistic. But we’re heading toward having eight billion people on the planet — and 90 percent of the fish that existed in the ocean 20 years ago are gone. We’re living on fumes. The fish you eat is farmed. The price of food in America went up 30 percent this year. Forty million Americans go to bed hungry. We’ve turned America into a Third World country. Six million Americans are homeless. Three million are in jail for smoking weed. We’ve created a horror system. And I think that, just from Fukushima alone, the cancer rates in the northern hemisphere are going to spike. In about ten or 15 years we’re going to see a dramatic increase in cancers all over the planet. Some people are going to get stronger and build up immunity to a lot of diseases, but others aren’t, depending on their health, wealth, et cetera. I hate to say this, but I think we’re going to witness a massive drop-off in population. Something’s bound to happen because overpopulation has taxed the system so much. No one will need to do anything — nature’s going to take care of it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What kind of alternative possibilities do you imagine can help us keep hope?
REMY CHEVALIER — I think there’s going to be a transition toward all the new technologies we’re talking about. Culture is going to adapt. It already is. I mean, you have farmers putting in solar and geothermal systems. We’re creating perma-culture and employing biodynamic agriculture. There are more communes in America than ever. People are leaving cities because they can work from their computers. They’re buying land and living in communes, creating communities based around farmers’ markets. We’re changing the way we live. Fashion is changing, too. The relationships women have with the products they eat and put on their bodies and hair is changing. We’re creating a survivalist culture that’s going to give us the opportunity to live in balance, because now we know how to do it.
But the reality of the situation is decay. It’s very much like science fiction.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Some people develop an alternative lifestyle to protect themselves. But the earth is still dominated by energy systems that can — and are destroying the planet.
REMY CHEVALIER — We could destroy the biosphere. We could make the planet uninhabitable for our species. Don’t forget that there are fish 5,000 feet down in the oceans living on sulfur. There will always be life. But whether those flesh and blood species without an exoskeleton for protection will be around — well, that’s up in the air.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Imagine two such nuclear accidents in France.
REMY CHEVALIER — Just one such nuclear accident and the whole of France could be decimated.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I started to put information about the anti-nuclear fight on my blog — thanks to your help — and, to my shock, people asked me why I talked about nuclear power when I didn’t know anything about it. [Laughs] It’s an indication that people don’t care — or realize — the dangers of nuclear power.
REMY CHEVALIER — We need to set an example.
Special thanks to Nicolas Rachline
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