Carrie Dickerson

The state of Oklahoma has no nuclear power plants, and Carrie Barefoot Dickerson is the biggest reason why.

On May 8, 1973, Dickerson, a registered nurse and the proprietress of Aunt Carrie's Nursing Home in Claremore, Oklahoma, read a newspaper article entitled "$450 M N-Plant Planned for Inola." Although not an activist, Dickerson had a habit of clipping and collecting articles on environmental issues. Inola was a nearby town, and Dickerson was concerned enough by what she read to take action. First, she did some research on the hazards of atomic reactors, and then she made a point of attending the first public hearing on the proposed plant. A person who had always assumed that her government would protect her safety, Dickerson was outraged to find that the government would allow construction of a nuclear reactor even though it knew a meltdown could render an area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable.

Dickerson did not have to look far for motivation for her new-found activism. "When I saw my little grandson playing outside on the green, uncontaminated grass, I knew in my heart that I was obligated to do all I could to keep him and future generations safe," she said.

She threw herself -- and most of her worldly goods -- into the effort to stop construction of what was called the Black Fox nuclear power plant. To raise money for a legal challenge to the reactor's construction, she sold her nursing home. When those funds were depleted, she mortgaged the family farm. When even more money was needed for the cause, she stitched quilts and raffled them off, all the while devoting hundreds of hours to learning all she could about nuclear energy.

Dickerson founded a group, Citizens' Action for Safe Energy (CASE), and attracted many dedicated allies to her cause. They reached a turning point in 1981 when the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, held hearings on the high electric rates that consumers would have to pay if the expensive nuclear plant were built. After hearing testimony from Dickerson and many others, the Commission declared that Black Fox was no longer economically viable and that ratepayers would not have to swallow its construction costs.

After the regulators' decision, the utility threw in the towel in 1982, and Black Fox joined the ranks of reactors cancelled before they could contaminate a community. The year Dickerson began her crusade, 1973, turned out to be a high-water mark for the nuclear industry, as no reactor ordered since that year has been completed in the United States. Dickerson gives credit to Ralph Nader and the "Critical Mass" conferences, which led to the founding of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project, for providing vital assistance to her nine-year struggle against Black Fox.

Dickerson remains active in the fight for safe, renewable energy and against atomic power. She recently alerted Oklahomans to the dangers posed by nuclear-industry plans to transport radioactive waste through the state. Dickerson, who is of caucasian and Native American ancestry, also helped persuade Oklahoma's Tonkawa tribe to reject an effort to dump highly radioactive waste on the Tonkawa reservation.

She has written a book about her experience with Black Fox, called "Aunt Carrie's War Against Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant." It's an inspirational tale of a citizen's efforts to protect her community and can be ordered by sending $30 (includes tax and shipping) to Carrie Barefoot Dickerson, 3609 East Blue Starr Drive, Claremore, OK 74017.

Now a great-grandmother nearing her 80th birthday, Dickerson is one of a select group of people who have sacrificed everything and overcome powerful odds to further a cause they believe to be just. Presently living on modest means, Dickerson was asked how she feels about having thrown so much money into the cause? "I'm only glad I had it to spend," she replied.

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