Abalone Alliance

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The Abalone Alliance (1977–1985) was a nonviolent civil disobedience group formed to shut down the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Diablo Canyon Power Plant near San Luis Obispo on the central California coast in the United States. They modeled their affinity group-based organizational structure after the Clamshell Alliance which was then protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in coastal New Hampshire. The group of activists took the name "Abalone Alliance" referring to the tens of thousands of wild California Red Abalone that were killed in 1974 in Diablo Cove when the unit's plumbing had its first hot flush.

The Abalone Alliance staged blockades and occupations at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant site between 1977 and 1984.[1] Nearly two thousand people were arrested during a two-week blockade in 1981, exceeding Seabrook as the largest number arrested at an anti-nuclear protest in the United States.[2]


The Diablo Canyon controversy started in 1963 when PG&E scrapped its attempt to build the Bodega Bay Nuclear Power Plant at Bodega Head, 71 miles north of San Francisco. The Bodega struggle started in 1958, but was opposed by a group led by a University of California professor and young Sierra Club activist named David Pessonen. This was the first anti-nuclear power campaign in the US. The main reason that the facility wasn't built was due its location less than 1,000 feet from the fault zone that struck San Francisco in 1906.

Rather than face public opposition at Diablo Canyon, PG&E approached the Sierra Club's president and cut a deal with certain board members where Diablo would be chosen rather than the Nipomo Dunes area. The wife of the Sierra Club president, who worked out the deal, would then be elected to PG&E's board of directors. As part of the plan, the decision was made when Sierra Club board member Martin Litton was out of the country, the only member who knew of Diablo's history and importance.[3][4] The board was flown down to see the site in Frank Sinatra's Lear Jet with Danny Kaye on board providing entertainment. Kaye would later become opposed to nuclear power.

The Sierra Club president forbade any chapter from opposing Diablo Canyon, so The San Luis Obispo Chapter formed the Shoreline Preservation Conference to oppose the construction on the grounds that the area had been proposed as a state park, was a sacred Chumash Indian site, had some of the largest oak trees on the West Coast, was located on the second-to-last coastal wilderness area in California, and could be sitting on the fault that lightly shook Santa Barbara in a 1927 earthquake. The internal dispute over Diablo Canyon was a primary reason for the split-up of the Sierra Club, that led to the formation of Friends of the Earth by David Brower.[3][5]

In 1965, the Shoreline Preservation Conference demanded that regulators investigate the danger of faults near the proposed site, but was ignored. In 1972 a Los Angeles reporter discovered a report by Shell Oil Company geologists completed prior to construction of Diablo Canyon Power Plant of the existence of the Hosgri Fault 2½ miles offshore from the facility. As a result of the discovery, regulators forced PG&E to redesign and reinforce the facility.

Diablo Canyon protests[edit]

During the late 1970s, the Abalone Alliance organized protests in San Luis County and regularly picketed PG&E offices across the state. The Alliance published a newspaper, It's About Times, which provided a forum for activist debate. Separate groups within the Abalone coalition "developed their own foci and protest styles".[6]

On August 7, 1977, 1,500 people demonstrated at the gate of Diablo Canyon, resulting in 47 arrests. The next year, 5,000 people rallied and 487 were arrested. On September 10, 1981, the Abalone Alliance occupied the site, leading to 1,960 arrests. Nearly 30,000 people showed up in support. At the end of the ten-day action, a 25-year-old engineer discovered a mirror image reversal in the seismic blueprints. PG&E was forced spend $3 billion and three additional years of repairs before reopening.[7] Anti-War Activists Daniel Ellsberg and Tom Hayden, activist stars like Ed Asner, Martin Sheen, Martin Landau, Blythe Danner, Patti Davis, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Marsha Mason, John Belushi, Jane Fonda and Robert Blake and performers such as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Yarrow, Holly Near, Joan Baez, Dan Fogelberg, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, The Doobie Brothers, Jesse Colin Young, Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Poco, Wavy Gravy, Warren Zevon and others joined the anti-nuclear concerts, protests and larger movement – which included a series of concerts at Madison Square Garden through Musicians United for Safe Energy, as well as 'Peace Sunday' at the Rose Bowl (with over 100,000 in attendance) and multiple 'Survival Sundays' held at the Hollywood Bowl both through the Alliance for Survival, a Los Angeles-based Abalone Alliance affiliate. A number of the high-profile participants were included in the arrests at Diablo and the mass jailings were described as a "tornado of talent". Jackson Browne defending his civil disobedience at a San Luis Obispo courthouse after his arrest for trespassing at the blockade (“I consider my actions to be patriotic”). In 1984, the Alliance organized the Peoples Emergency Response Plan, where affinity groups blockaded at the Diablo Gates over a four-month period.

In late 1981, Alliance activists primarily from Davis and Sonoma, along with local opposition held an eight-day sit-in at the State Capitol, encouraging then-Governor Jerry Brown to use emergency powers to shut down the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station. The plant was closed by a public vote in 1989, a decade before its operating license was to expire. Other Alliance activists went on to form the Livermore Action Group, the Vandenberg Action Coalition, Environmental Defense Center, the Lenten Desert Experience at the Nevada Test Site and Musicians United for Safe Energy. At its peak, there were over 60 groups who were affiliated with the Alliance, including Greenpeace and Alliance for Survival. The group was hit with one of the first known SLAPPs in U.S. history, where the Pacific Legal Foundation and San Luis Obispo County attempted to legally obtain the names of all members and supporters, demanding that they pay for the costs of the 1981 blockade. The suit lasted nearly five years, before being withdrawn just before going before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Mothers for Peace filed a legal challenge with the D.C. Circuit Court in an attempt to stop the operation of Diablo Canyon but was denied in November 1984. In January 1985, NRC Commissioner Asselstine leaked a copy of the NRC's secret transcripts to KRON-TV in San Francisco, documenting how the NRC had illegally licensed Diablo Canyon without properly reviewing evacuation plans as previously required. The Mothers then reopened their challenge based on the leaked NRC transcripts. Judge Robert Bork of the DC Court took the lead in denying the appeal April 25, 1986. Bork claimed that to look at the leaked transcripts would be judicial activism.[citation needed]

Diablo Canyon opens[edit]

The Diablo Canyon reactors were originally estimated to cost just over $300 million when PG&E was first given permission to construct the facility. When finally opened in 1985, construction costs were $5.8 billion and financing costs nearly an additional $7 billion. After the 1981 blueprint mirror image mistake was discovered, the reactor's construction costs stood at $2.1 billion. PG&E permission to go ahead with operation was reversed by the NRC and the company was required to go through a major review and rebuild. PG&E was unable to find further financing from any source to continue construction, until president Ronald Reagan ordered the United States Environmental Protection Agency to give the company nearly $2.5 billion in loans.[citation needed]

The controversy did not come to a close until December 1988 when the California Public Utilities Commission gave PG&E a $54 billion 30-year, cost plus rate contract to operate Diablo Canyon Power Plant. It has been considered[by whom?] the most controversial nuclear power plant in U.S. history because of its location 2½ miles offshore from the Hosgri Fault.]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diablo Canyon Timeline Part II
  2. ^ Daniel Pope. Conservation Fallout (book review), H-Net Reviews, August 2007.
  3. ^ a b Diablo Canyon Timeline Part I
  4. ^ Conservation Fallout: Nuclear Protest at Diablo Canyon, John Wills, pIX
  5. ^ DAVID BROWER by Montgomery Brower PEOPLE WEEKLY April 30, 1990 Archived July 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ John Wills (2006). Conservation fallout: nuclear protest at Diablo Canyon. p. 91. ISBN 9780874176803.
  7. ^ Gray, Dean M. "Wake Me When Doomsday Arrives". Desert Vortex News. Retrieved 31 August 2013.


Dark Circle, Dir. Chris Beaver, Ruth Landy and Judy Irving, 1982, won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1983 as well as an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in News and Documentary" in 1990.

A Question of Power, Dir. David L. Brown, Prod. by David L. Brown, Tom Anderson and Jane Kinzler, 1986

No Nukes Dir. Daniel Goldberg, Anthony Potenza Prod. Julian Schlossberg, 1980

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