CHICAGO -- When the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan was knocked out with one mighty wave, the all-but-forgotten anti-nuke movement suddenly powered up in the U.S.
Paul Gunter, director at Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear, barely found time to sleep. Web traffic spiked, and Gunter's mailing list exploded with new members.
David Kraft, who for 30 years has quietly operated a Chicago-based nonprofit committed to ending nuclear power, scored his organization's first face-to-face meeting with the governor of Illinois. The state boasts the largest number of nuclear plants in the country.
And in Pennsylvania, Eric Epstein, chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, was deluged with media requests. He trekked to the infamous plant as many as 11 times a day for TV interviews about whether what happened in Japan could happen here.
The renewed interest in nuclear power comes at a time when it has become more accepted, somewhat aligned with the green movement, and opponents had largely dwindled to a small band of scientists and aging hippies.
"From my vantage point, many of our meetings look like AARP reunions," Epstein said. Prior to the accident in Japan, he said, "this younger generation was more interested in a rainforest in Brazil than they were a nuclear power plant in their backyard."
That may have changed as a result of Japan.
"You're dealing with a crisis that's going to have an ongoing impact," said Peter Kuznick, director of American University's Nuclear Studies Institute. "The worst thing from the standpoint of the nuclear industry nationally is that this is going to remain in the eyes of the public for a long time."
In Chicago last week, gray-haired protestors donning anti-nuke buttons from the Cold War era and dreadlocked 20-somethings in hazmat suits joined forces to stage the city's first anti-nuke demonstration in 10 years, rallying outside the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle Conference at the Swissotel Chicago.
The rally was a first for 23-year-old Carlyn Crispell, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who admitted that protesting nuclear power hadn't been her top priority.
Her Facebook profile picture features a soot-spewing coal plant overlaid with the words, "Coal power's toxic fallout is poisoning our community." But last week Crispell sparred with Facebook friends who defended nuclear power as a clean energy source.
"I think most environmentalists are anti-nuclear," she said. "Maybe it's just the crowd I run with?"
Over the years the nuclear power industry has worked hard to align itself with the green movement, a cause near and dear to young activists.
"Environmentalists are torn about this," said Regina Axelrod, professor and chairwoman of the political science department at Adelphi University in New York and an expert on nuclear power and energy policy. "They think that climate change is the most profoundly dangerous issue we have to deal with in stabilizing planet Earth, which is under attack."
It's the reason people like Kraft have invested so much time trying to win over students to his cause.
"We're getting older," Kraft, 59, said. "We definitely need to bring in some young folks."
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