Recently featured on Fox News and The Los Angeles Times, Ben Davis, Jr. has filed an initiative that would close the last two remaining nuclear power plants in California at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.
The soft-spoken anti-nuke activist does not appear panicked by the
biggest fight of his life. Maybe that is because he has done it before.
Davis became an environmental activist in the 1980s when he filed his first lawsuit against a town outside of Sacramento to stop a curb and gutter project which would destroy 430 trees. Although the Sacramento native did not win, he gained concessions and confidence.
“I learned about the Environmental Quality Act and how I could use it,” said Davis. “I learned how to file a lawsuit and I went on to file another one to save the Sacramento River’s natural habitat.”
"Then the third case I filed involved Rancho Seco, the local nuclear power plant. The county had to adopt a plan for evacuation if
there were an accident at the plant,” he said.
When officials wanted an exception, he filed the Ben Davis, Jr. vs. the County of Sacramento lawsuit which he and other citizens won by county initiative and closed the problematic plant.
What compelled Davis to start his legal battles?
“First it was an affinity for the trees and the environment and the predicament of the planet. It was also during the time of Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island accidents, when we all had a heightened awareness of radiation. That kind of new technology is really turning us into an experiment. We are experimenting with nature in a way that is really dangerous,” he said.
The Japanese nuclear power plant accident this year reminded
Davis that he “knew how to do this stuff.” At the time he remembers seeing California elected officials, like Barbara Boxer, on television and she “didn’t know the right questions to ask.”
“I knew more about evacuation plans than they did. The only way to evacuate cities is on foot. You can’t go out in cars. They’ll back up, you’ll have a traffic jam and then people will leave their cars and you’ll have a permanent traffic jam,” he said.
When his calls to legislators’ offices went unreturned, he filed the initiative. “I’ll do it myself.”
He is contacting various officials, like State Representative Bill Monning, to educate them on the issue.
Like many Santa Cruzans, semi-retired Davis does not have “a job” but a portfolio of services and skills he provides, like caregiver
to an elderly client, painter, helper at his cousin’s winery, and distributor of the dog magazine Bay Woof.
Why did Davis move to Santa Cruz?
“I’m a body surfer and I love the atmosphere and the quality of air here. This is my favorite place in the world.”
What does he think about Santa Cruz being a Nuclear Free Zone?
“I look forward to when California is a Nuclear Free Zone.”
The initiative, entitled The Nuclear Waste Act of 2012, would prohibit nuclear power generation in the state until a permanent disposal site for high-level nuclear waste is approved by the federal government. San Onofre and Diablo Canyon would have to immediately shut down.
Two big hurdles for Davis:
- A report by the non-partisan State Legislative Analyst’s Office says that the closings would cost billions of dollars in economic losses, cause rolling blackouts, and spikes in electricity rates.
For Californians who are interested in learning more about the initiative, Davis recommends downloading the petition from his website at http://sanonofresafety.org/california-nuclear-initiative/ and circulating it from friend to friend, “a chain reaction.”
He keeps busy with legal research with the support of a couple of lawyers, but says he needs administrative support and groups and individuals who will gather signatures.
The movement is getting some traction.
In a statement Thursday to the Subcomittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Senator Barbara Boxer brought up the petition, the opposition and concerns for the country's regulation and monitoring of nuclear plants by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"The American people's faith in nuclear power was shaken by the Fukushima crisis, and the American public rightly expects the NRC to redouble its efforts to ensure that our nuclear plants are the safest in the world, but that has not happened yet.
"Let me tell you what happens when people lose confidence in the NRC and the nuclear industry. Right now, there is a petition being circulated for a ballot initiative that would effectively shut down the two nuclear power plants in California. I believe we will see more of that across the country if America doesn't have confidence in the NRC.
"If the NRC does not do its job, the American people will demand the ultimate protection - the shutdown of old nuclear power plants that have similar characteristics as the Fukushima plant."