Passing of Frieda Berryhill

Frieda passed on June 20, 2012, at the age of 90. 

She was well known nationally in the anti-nuclear movement.   Perhaps her biggest single achievement was organizing and leading the opposition ("Coalition for Nuclear Power Postponement") to a nuclear power plant Delmarva Power wanted to build on the banks of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal during the 1970s.

Officially Summit Power Station, Units 1 and 2, this plant was to use 1200 megawatt High Temperature Gas Cooled reactors, a very different design from most nuclear power plants. 

One other plant of similar design, from the same vendor, was built in Ft. St. Vrain, Colorado.  That plant was a failure, closed after ten years of very irregular and troubled operation.  If the Summit plants had been built–and the projects reportedly did get to the stage of "procurement of major components"–they would have failed also.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission lists the reactors as officially cancelled in 1975.

The costs would likely have brought down a small utility such as Delmarva Power.  As things played out, the plants were delayed until the vendor, Gulf General Atomic, admitted it could not deliver the plants and paid damages to Delmarva Power.  Some Delmarva Power officials did have the grace to admit, although not very publicly, that Berryhill had done them a great service.

Stopping the building of two nuclear reactors could be seen as an impressive lifetime achievement for any person.  But Frieda remained active in the anti-nuclear movement until a few weeks before her recent death.  She was a diligent watchdog over the Salem and Hope Creek reactors on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. 

A particular focus was the lack of meaningful evacuation planning for people living around these reactors-the majority are in Delaware–and the servility of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency to the nuke plant owners.   She pushed unsuccessfully for public hearings in Delaware on evacuation planning, fingering Delaware State Senator Brian Bushweller as an obstacle.

Berryhill also alleged for many years that the Salem/Hope Creek nukes were essentially built on mud which might liquefy in the event of an earthquake, leading to structural collapse.  This was always denied by the owners, PSEG, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  But, I recall that the owners once also claimed they couldn’t build cooling towers, much need to reduce massive fish kills, because the ground was unsuitable for supporting heavy structures.

As her ability to get out to meetings was curtailed somewhat by advancing age, she maintained an online presence.  Unlike many of her generation, her ability to adapt to the Internet age enabled her to stay active.

As most probably know, the concerns of the anti-nuclear movement, initially somewhat theoretical, have been amply and tragically confirmed by experience.  Nuke power is neither safe nor economical.

But, PSEG is scheming to build another nuclear reactor on Artificial Island to join the Salem I and II, and Hope Creek I, reactors.  Many officials in Delaware are promoting the scheme and trying to silence the opposition.  Who will provide the leadership to fight this?

Delaware Senator Tom Carper, a pro-nuke fanatic, continues to do all he can to promote the nuclear industry.  The key Federal contributions are (1) lax regulation via the NRC, and (2) multi-billion dollar handouts and loan guarantees for building new nukes.

Frieda mostly confined her activism to anti-nuclear work.  But she had come of age in Nazi-ruled Austria, and after "9-11" she saw the clear similarities between the methods used by Hitler to seize power, and the police-state legislation, such as the "PATRIOT" Act, being enacted in the US.  She spoke out, and authored resolutions against these evils.  (The police state has, of course, been supported by such Delaware pols as Carper, Biden, and Castle, and the evils have continued to grow under President Obama.)

For a while, Frieda was on the Green Delaware Steering Committee and hosted many meetings at her home.

A one-sentence epitaph for Frieda Berryhill "She was fearless, and she was right."

"When comes such another?"

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