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Nuclear Power Fought With Social Media By New Generation Of Activists

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DES MOINES, Iowa — It's been 33 years since Raye Fleming's arrest outside Southern California's Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, near the height of the anti-nuclear power furor.

That was the first arrest of many and, Fleming believed, such actions paid off as a generation of Americans turned against nuclear power.

"It was just the correct, moral thing to do," said 66-year-old Fleming.

But after years of believing they had won the fight against nuclear energy, activists suddenly feel the battle is starting all over again. And they're trying to figure out how to win in an era of Facebook and Twitter as well as get the younger generation involved in the movement.

Lately, the option for nuclear energy has gotten more popular.

President Barack Obama has backed billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia. If approved, they would be the first nuclear power plants in the U.S. to begin construction in almost three decades. Political support for nuclear power has grown, especially after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted risks of fossil fuel production. And people are more open to nuclear energy.

For those like Fleming, that change is hard to understand.

"A call for more nuclear power plants," sighed Fleming, of Arroyo Grande, Calif. "It's still not safe, there's still no solution to the waste storage and it's costly."

For many, the issue isn't as simple as it once was. Concerns about global warming have left several environmentalists unsure about what really is the "green" side of the issue, and it's been more than 30 years since the last high-profile accident in the U.S.

Some, like Patrick Moore, have simply changed their minds. He was once a leader in the anti-nuclear movement, and now he's co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which supports the expansion of nuclear power.

"I personally believe that because we were so focused at that time on the threat of all-out nuclear war and the emotional aspect of that, we were a bit blinded and included nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons as if everything nuclear was evil," he said.

"The bottom line is, I believe we made a mistake," he added, noting that while construction costs for nuclear plants are high, operating costs are low. He also contends nuclear energy is a safe and valuable resource.

Nuclear power protesters who were on the picket lines years ago know that to be effective now, they have to update their tactics. No more protests, sit-ins and horror stories rooted in the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island decades ago.

"It's 2010. It's not 1979. It's a different generation. There are different styles," said Michael Mariotte, a longtime opponent of nuclear power who heads the Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "The whole idea of mass marches and that kind of thing doesn't have the same kind of resonance as back then."

Mariotte's group alerts members to big issues via Facebook, links to anti-nuclear stories through Twitter and posts videos on YouTube.

For one group in Georgia, it's the newer crop that really has brought those technological skills to the table and a passion to educate others via the Internet, said Glenn Carroll, the coordinator with Nuclear Watch South, which opposes the proposed reactors in Georgia.

"We have a lot of writing and publishing talent in our ranks and we are meaning to be a go-to resource where you can learn the basics about nuclear power and you can get in touch via directories and links with people in your town," she said.

Protesting nuclear power in the Twitterverse has helped the movement grow.

"I think that's how people have gotten savvy over it," said 31-year-old Emma Ogley-Oliver, a Nuclear Watch South member.

When she got involved in the nuclear power issue three years ago, she learned a lot from those who began the fight in the 1970s.

"I was surrounded by a lot of older folks ... which was great because I was needing to get a sense of what was going on and all the issues," she said. "The elders really want to pass their knowledge along."

Right now, older and younger activists are doing the nuts-and-bolt work – speaking out at public service commission meetings and Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings and researching zoning and pollution issues, Ogley-Oliver said.

They are also attending so-called "action camps" to teach the ins and outs of mobilizing, citizen participation and how nuclear energy works.

Jane Magers of Des Moines, Iowa, has fought nuclear power for nearly 40 years. She senses a change, a feeling that "we've got to have energy at all costs."

But Magers said she's confident that the increased support for nuclear energy will melt away when utilities announce where they intend to build. No one, she said, wants to live near a nuclear plant.

"The groundswell (against nuclear power) will come when they announce where the sites are," she said.

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