In 1963 PG&E, California’s largest provider of electricity, announced plans to build a nuclear power plant on the Nipomo Dunes in San Luis Obispo County. Executives foresaw few problems. But opposition soon emerged, and from an unlikely source. Kathleen Jackson (1907–2001) was a Central Coast housewife and avid hiker. She loved the dunes. Against prohibitive odds, she succeeded in getting PG&E to move the plant some thirty miles north, to Diablo Canyon. But this decision fueled further opposition, also from an unlikely group, Mothers for Peace (MFP), based in San Luis Obispo. For more than a decade, MFP joined lawsuits targeting what they viewed as PG&E’s lackadaisical approach to safety issues. By 1981, a massive protest movement had emerged. That September, as low-level testing began, nearly 20,000 protesters blockaded the plant. Women played prominent roles in this effort as well, publicly linking the nuclear industry to patriarchal control of society. Diablo Canyon Power Plant went online in the mid-1980s, but opposition remained, as MFP continued to participate in lawsuits and publicize safety issues. Meanwhile, public polling revealed growing opposition to nuclear power in general. In 2016, PG&E announced it would shutter the plant in 2026. Executives did not acknowledge their role, but those largely responsible were women who kept the issue of nuclear power front and center in California for more than a half century.

You do not currently have access to this content.