The Staff of Nuclear Information & Resource Service
Working for a Nuclear-Free World
Michael Mariotte – Counterweight to Nuclear Energy
1952 – 2016
Let us be clear: without Michael Mariotte’s decision in the mid 1980’s to devote his talents to stopping the nuclear industry, many things would be very different today. Michael could not do what he did without Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and the many thousands of people who work with NIRS could not have produced the results they did without Michael at the helm. This is one telling of this story.
Dispassionate passion: The smartest one in almost any room… but never resting on his own analysis; always digging, asking the next question, checking the facts. Michael Mariotte was a journalist and an organizer and at bottom it was these talents that made his leadership of the civilian end of the US anti-nuclear community so deft. Michael’s dispassion was sometimes misunderstood as indifference, but he was standing back, watching as the pieces of a puzzle would come together. Michael’s ability to zero-in with the precision of a hawk on the pressure point that could lead to change, and then write the words that would mobilize thousands onto a path of action created much of the passion in our community that has resulted in so many victories over the last thirty years. (See Victories below.)
Michael’s dedication to evidence and documentation provided credible, reliable information and analysis from routine reporting to hardcore litigation. He fully supported and sometimes led nonviolent direct action.
Writing: Michael’s 31+ year tenure at NIRS is characterized by dedicated writing. He joined NIRS in February 1985 to write and edit Groundswell, NIRS publication for the Grassroots Anti-Nuclear Movement which provided in-depth reporting and analysis. In it Mariotte wrote articles so classic (including Nuclear Is Not the Solution the Greenhouse Problem) that many, if reprinted today, would hardly need update. NIRS had already established itself as the Go-To source for information on reactor operations and capacity factors, which were calculated weekly by staff and published twice a month in The Nuclear Monitor. Prior to the internet, this publication was the only readily available source of good facts on nuclear energy performance, and lack thereof, for the financial and policy worlds. He did not pursue a desire to go into the field of socially responsible investing rather stayed with NIRS to inform that realm of the financial and other dangers of nuclear power and its fuel chain. Michael kept The Nuclear Monitor alive and expanded it when publication of Groundswell ended (circa 1989). By 2000 with a staff of seven, he was far too busy with other aspects of NIRS work to write as he had before. Indeed hand-off of the publication of The Nuclear Monitor was a key element in NIRS’s affiliation with the World Information Service on Energy (WISE) that year. WISE continues regular production of the Nuclear Monitor in conjunction with NIRS.
Michael’s commitment to reporting shown through again on his daily log of events as the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns unfolded in 2011. The NIRS website often “broke” news that was only reported by others days and weeks later. Michael gave equal voice to the post-Chernobyl era when he visited Pripyat in 1996, organizing delegations of experts and activists. He visited Germany in 1997 and 1998 during the massive demonstrations and blockades against nuclear waste transport to a centralized nuclear waste site. In these travels Michael helped establish the NIRS / WISE network, a global chain of grassroots “relays” spanning the globe. The European portion of this network, with Michael and Tanya Murza (to later become his wife), hosted a major conference on Chernobyl in Kiev, 2006, the 20th anniversary of that nuclear horror.
GreenWorld, Michael’s blog is the “bookend” bringing Michael back to his first love: clear, insightful and often acerbic reporting on the state of the nuclear escapade. He started it in 2013 when he handed the NIRS Executive Director position to Timothy Judson, who had been a young activist at the Action Camps years before. As he moved into his role of NIRS President,GreenWorld became his primary platform for the last two-plus years. Michael’s last post May 2, 2016 was only two weeks before his death.
Legislative Action: Choose your battles. Do what you can to maximize your odds. Walk away when you can’t win, but be sure to reveal the tilt in the table as you go. Michael and NIRS lost some legislative battles in the 30 years that Michael led NIRS, but we won a lot more and a very key reason for that was that Michael knew how to “count votes.” Better than almost anyone. He retained a universe of small bits of information that he gathered in numerous dimensions that added up to a very keen sense of who we “had” on our side in Congress; who was hopeless; and how to swing the others. NIRS lost when Congress reversed what had been an enormous NIRS legal victory on reactor licensing, passing legislation allowing streamlined “one-step” licensing of new nuclear reactors… but the silver lining in the same energy bill, was NIRS’ equally historic reversal of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s policy called “Below Regulatory Concern” that would have deregulated about 1/4 of nuclear power’s so-called “low-level” radioactive waste and permitted it to be disposed into regular trash and commercial recycling streams. Michael was not a fundamentalist, he was a realist. At the same time he believed firmly that people have the real power.
In 1995, in the face of industry and government efforts to make the technically, morally, legally flawed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada on Western Shoshone land the nuclear power high-level waste dump, Michael designed the Stop Mobile Chernobyl Campaign. This national effort successfully stopped industry efforts to revise the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to allow shipment of the intensely radioactive nuclear fuel to the Yucca Mountain Site prior to approval of that site as a permanent repository. Enlisting the populations along the nuclear transport routes expanded our community greatly and the Stop Mobile Chernobyl campaign became a signature for building NIRS’s base at the very time that email and on-line organizing was being invented.
In the Bush-Cheney years, and on into the Obama administration, Michael and NIRS had a coordinating role in a large coalition of national groups opposing taxpayer funded nuclear “loan guarantees” that would underwrite new reactor development, and other subsidies to the nuclear industry. The coalition stopped expansion of this program time after time and created much more scrutiny for the loan-guarantee program overall. Michael did the grassroots outreach and action alerts that resulted in hundreds of thousands of electronic “hits” to congress over that period.
Electronic Organizing: NIRS had a computerized database of its supporters in the early 1990s thanks to Michael. As soon as “dial-up” existed, he created the very first electronic bulletin board that anti-nuclear people could post to… back before WINDOWS or “Websites.” When the NIRS website was set up, Michael became its librarian, personally posting thousands of relevant documents in a public space where people can download any of them (www.nirs.org). Michael created email distribution lists as soon as there was email, long before the advent of on-line email list services like “Democracy in Action.” When these major on-line list utilities became available, Michael helped NIRS supporters to swell into the tens of thousands.
Legal Action: Michael supported a great many grassroots actions to challenge nuclear licenses. This included research, recruiting experts, referrals to attorneys, bird dogging any Congressional and NRC actions on the cases and providing coverage in NIRS publications. He himself stepped into the ring (pro se) in 2008 as part of the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition, filing a challenge to the proposed 3rd nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs on the Chesapeake Bay near Washington, D.C. The Coalition won, stopping the new reactor because of “foreign ownership,” thanks largely to Michael’s unwavering prosecution of the US utility Constellation and its French Partner, ElectricitÃ© de France. NRC’s denial of a license for the construction of Calvert Cliffs Unit 3 was the first time the public had defeated a reactor operating license application, and is one of the crowning accomplishments of Michael’s long work to stop nuclear energy. This had the effect of also preventing the 9-Mile Point 3 nuclear reactor proposed in New York State on Lake Ontario by the same foreign ownership partnership.
NIRS, with local New Jersey organizations, challenged the license extension of the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor, the first time a full hearing was held and a contention accepted by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board. The historic contention was against continued operation of this Fukushima-Mark 1-style reactor with a severely corroded dry-well containment, pitted to half the thickness of the wall in many places at the bottom.
Michael pursued and publicized tips NIRS received that the fire barriers in many nuclear reactors were actually made out of combustible, flammable material (Thermolag). This resulted in major legal actions within the industry against the fraudulent company.
He supported NIRS staff, along with Union of Concerned Scientists, expert watch-dogging of the Davis-Besse reactor pressure vessel corrosion (“hole in the head”) and demand for investigation into NRC’s mishandling of the near disaster. This might have saved the world from a nuclear tragedy near Toledo in 2002, time-wise mid-way between Chernobyl and Fukushima.
NIRS was part of the successful court challenge to inadequate radiological standards for proposed high level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
In 1999 Michael backed a creative scheme to ask the NRC to require renewable energy back-up power on all reactor sites in time for the 1999 “Y2K” computer roll-over.
Grassroots: All of the work NIRS has done has been possible because of the engagement with local people in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and other countries. Whether shining a spotlight on a bad federal regulation, pushing on Congress to do the right thing, or raising funds to pay expert witnesses, it is only possible with the hundreds and often thousands of NIRS supporters and allies taking action. Michael believed in this: we, together, have the power. He several times worked to mobilize people in a bigger way. He was part of the MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) at Madison Square Garden and outside the Capitol in DC (1979) and its revival in 2011 in Mountain View in the wake of Fukushima meltdowns. Michael instigated six Action Camps to train grassroots activists from 1998-2001 and supported two “climate convergences” in 2007 and 2008, all to teach nuclear issues and non-violent direct action. Michael also knew that NIRS and our community must lead on climate. He mobilized our community to be a key hub of the People’s Climate March in 2014 and the Paris Climate Summit activism in 2015. Michael knew how to move a movement. Michael also had absolutely no interest in the kind of drama that haunts some long-term leadership roles. This was a tremendous asset: NIRS staff were cut lose to WORK, to research, educate, organize, coordinate with the safe energy advocates across the country and around the world.
VICTORIES: None of these belong to Michael any more than the grassroots leaders, funders, and hundreds to tens of thousands of people who take action… but Michael put his War Horse stamina and courage of conviction into all of these and more…:
Nuclear Reactors Shutdown:
Since Michael took the helm at NIRS these operating reactors shutdown:
Big Rock Point
Crystal River 3
San Onofre 1, 2, 3
Zion 1, 2
Fort St. Vrain
Reactor License Challenge:
Every single new US Construction / Operating License (COL) was challenged by NIRS or the grassroots network which NIRS supports.
Fuel Chain Front-End:
Michael’s support for, strategy and advocacy on behalf of an impoverished African American community in Homer, Louisiana were instrumental in stopping a uranium enrichment facility proposed a by major US European consortium. The NRC decision denying the license was an early environmental justice victory which is cited in law school text books. After Tennesseans kicked it out of their state, NIRS legally challenged it again in New Mexico.
Michael helped to ensure that the budding socially-responsible investment community was fully informed about the tremendous financial debacle of the first-build of reactors, which included 99 cancelations, many after significant investments by teacher’s retirement funds and others. He worked with international allies to prevent investments in reactors and nuclear fuel chain facilities.
So-Called “Low-Level” Waste:
The 1985 Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act triggered scores of industry and government attempts to site new dumps. NIRS, with Michael’s strong support, assisted challenges in 20 states against new unlined, soil trench burial of so-called “low-level” waste (some hotter than nuclear weapons high level waste), weakening regulations and shifting liability for commercial nuclear power waste to states. NIRS continues to fight to keep radioactive waste from being deregulated or cleared from radioactive controls. Michael was instrumental in the big victory overturning the NRC “Below Regulatory Control” or BRC Policies in 1992 but repeated that fight eleven more times against NRC and other federal and state agencies and international entities.
High-Level Waste / Mobile Chernobyl:
Consolidated storage sites stopped during Michael’s tenure: Tennessee
Mescalero Apache Reservation (NM)
Skull Valley Goshute Reservation (UT)
Yucca Mountain, Western Shoshone land (NV)
The Nuclear Waste Negotiator was defunded and 25 tribes sent “bribe” money back to DOE
The Stop Mobile Chernobyl Campaign educated the nation on nuclear waste transport and supported President Clinton’s veto of revisions to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The DOE’s license application for a repository at Yucca Mountain was withdrawn and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stopped reviewing it (until reversed by court order).
MOX / Plutonium
Every step of the MOX (mixed oxide) plutonium fuel program was challenged and every license step had an intervention
In 2006, Michael helped mobilize an international alliance of anti-nuclear groups for United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen, which prevented nuclear power from being adopted as a solution to global warming. In 2014, he orchestrated a mobilization of thousands of anti-nuclear activists for the People’s Climate March under the banner of a Nuclear-Free, Carbon-Free contingent.
After a brave struggle against pancreatic cancer for three years, Michael died peacefully at home and his family on May 16, 2016 at 63 years of age. He is survived by his wife Tanya, their young daughters Zoryana and Kateryna, his friend and ex-wife Lynn, and their children Nicole and Richard, as well as his sister Julie, brother Jeff, and sister-in-law Marsheila. And of course he leaves a seasoned, experienced and growing anti-nuclear movement with many more victories to win. He asked friends and colleagues to do something fun in his memory. That was his way, to honor life by living and enjoying it to the fullest.