Diablo Canyon blockade: A-protest leaves both sides claiming victory

If there is one conclusive statement to be made about the 14-day blockade of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, it is that the action, which ended Sept. 28, resulted in more arrests -- a total of nearly 1,900 -- than any other antinuclear demonstration in United States history.

Beyond that, however, the question of what the protesters accomplished is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder.

In the eyes of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), owner of the $2.3 billion twin-domed plant that was granted a low-power test license on Sept. 21, the blockade was a flop.

"To sum it up succinctly, they had absolutely no effect," on PG&E's preparations to begin low-power testing 14 years after the plant was first begun , according to company spokesman Greg Pruett. Protesters, who invaded the coastal plant by road, back-country, and sea, had vowed to prevent Diablo -- which lies within three miles of a major subsidiary of the San Andreas earthquake fault -- from ever operating.

In the eyes of a coalition of citizens' groups, headed by State Assembly minority leader Carol Hallett, the event was an illegal nuisance that forced state and local authorities to spend an estimated $1 million on law enforcement during what was a largely peaceful, nonviolent protest. Led by Mrs. Hallet, the coalition on Sept. 25 filed a lawsuit for the $1 million cost of law enforcement against the Abalone Alliance, which organized the protest.

And in the eyes of organizers, who spent nearly two years planning the demonstration, the blockade at least publicized the ongoing battle over the future of nuclear power.

"We feel we had a really strong, positive action," says Steve Leeds, a protest spokesman. "We elevated the issue of nuclear power, Diablo Canyon, and nuclear weaponry one step up. . . . We'll be back. . . ."

Although organizers never gave out preblockade estimates on the number of protesters that would attend, the event was treated as a failure nearly from its outset by many members of the media who had expected thousands of protesters to show up for the 30-day commitment asked of them by blockade organizers. The demonstration reached its peak with an estimated 2,000 protesters, some of whom were arrested twice.

The end of the slowly fizzling blockade, however, does not mean an end to action by the alliance, which, its leaders say, will continue to try to shut the plant down in the next few months, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ponders whether to grant PG&E a full-power license for the plant. (In addition, other Diablo opponents are trying to stop the plant through court appeals).

According to Mr. Leeds, Abalone Alliance members from some 60 environmental groups around the state will meet Oct. 9-11 to plan new strategies, which may range from statewide rallies and demonstrations to another blockade of Diablo.

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