On this month forty years ago, at the height of anti-nuclear protests across the country, 39 Wesleyan students protested and were arrested at a construction site for a nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Along with dozens of other activists, some of those arrested were eventually convicted of criminal trespass. It was the first mass citizen occupation of a nuclear power plant site in the United States.
The arrests on April 30, 1977, cemented Wesleyan’s reputation as a university with one of the largest numbers of anti-nuclear activists in the country. The Hartford Courant called Wesleyan a “hotbed of anti-nuclear activism.” A spokesman for the group that organized the protest, the Clamshell Alliance, said that there were more Wesleyan students arrested at Seabrook than from any other college. Clamshell Alliance is an umbrella organizations for anti-nuclear groups.
In preparation for the protest, the Clamshell Alliance organized preparation sessions, involving role-playing workshops and education on the risks of nuclear power. Organizers at Wesleyan, Bradley Hess ’80 and Arnie Alpers ’77 stressed the nonviolent nature of the protest and required all Wesleyan students who wished to participate to attend workshops on how to protest with nonviolent methods.
On the day of the protest, 2,000 people from all over New England walked onto the construction site. Of the 2,000, 1,400 people were arrested. The students who were arrested called for bail solidarity, meaning that they did not post bail until they were released on personal recognizance, meaning on a written promise to show up to future court dates. Ultimately, students at Wesleyan held fundraisers for their bail.
The arrested students encouraged their peers who had fundraised for them to further their activism by spreading the word on the anti-nuclear movement, especially by writing letters to the governor of Connecticut.
In their occupation of Seabrook, protesters aimed to halt construction enough times for them to start losing money. The Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant as it stands today contains one nuclear reactor, though two were originally planned. Due to protests and lawsuits throughout 1976 and 1977, the plant’s cost doubled that of initial estimates, and plans to construct the reactor were dropped.
After the protests, Wesleyan students rallied together and created the Nuclear Resistance Group, or NRG (pronounced “energy”). It grew to be one of the most supported student activist groups at the time, consisting of 50 active members and a mailing list of more than 600 people. They began to hold regular meetings, teach-ins, rallies, and a campus newsletter entitled “The Radioactive Flash.” NRG associated themselves with the Clamshell Alliance.
The protest on April 30 was the third in a series of organized, non-violent occupations by the Clamshell Alliance on the Seabrook Plant. On March 31, 1977, the Wesleyan Hermes released an article on students’ plans to protest at the Plant. Within this article, the Hermes stated that the plant would upset an ancient Native American burial ground, in addition to posing a serious threat to the fishing industry along the New Hampshire coast.
After the Seabrook plant protest, NRG expanded their efforts throughout Wesleyan, holding teach-ins and rallies. On November 15, 1977, The Argus reported on expanded opposition to Seabrook, as local residents started seeing large-scale lobster deaths. After the arrests, NRG also held fundraising dinners to raise money for legal expenses incurred by the Seabrook occupation.
Wesleyan students were also active in nuclear resistance and America’s growing arms race, expanding into protests against the construction of the Trident submarine, the U.S.’ next step in the arms race. In a Radioactive Flash newsletter published on December 2, 1977, students were reported to have demonstrated at the Trident submarine missile system site in Groton, Conn.
NRG also protested in 1979 in an anti-nuclear demonstration in Buchanan, New York, where several students were arrested. The group was also involved in declaring Wesleyan a “nuclear-free zone,” where students and the administration agreed that the school would not “participate in the production, testing, deployment, storage or transportation of nuclear weapons.” At the height of the Cold War, this was a large political statement.
In addition to NRG, other student groups were involved in anti-nuclear efforts. The Committee on Environmental Awareness (CEA) held workshops and fairs on the importance of alternative energy and hosted speeches by prominent environmental activists. On April 30, 1978, they co-hosted the Alternative Energy Fair with the NRG and the College of Science in Society. Their focus was toward creating a shift in living habits to reduce energy consumption but also educated participants on renewable energy options.