Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Bonnie Raitt (center) listens to Jackson Browne (left) speak during a news conference on Capitol Hill while Graham Nash looks on, Oct. 23, 2007. Raitt, Browne and Nash joined members of Congress and environmental groups to speak about an anti-nuclear campaign they support.
Bonnie Raitt (center) listens to Jackson Browne (left) speak during a news conference on Capitol Hill while Graham Nash looks on, Oct. 23, 2007. Raitt, Browne and Nash joined members of Congress and environmental groups to speak about an anti-nuclear campaign they support. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Rock musicians are bringing the messages of their socially conscious music to Capitol Hill.
Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and other aging rockers are due in Washington this week to urge Congress not to support nuclear power in its new energy bill.
Their actions are reminiscent of the 1970s wave of popular protest against nuclear power.
Since then, no new nuclear plants have been approved in this country, but the industry is poised for a comeback.
And rockers, including Bruce Springsteen, are ready to pick up where they left off 28 years ago when "No Nukes" concerts galvanized the public.
"We really felt part of something incredibly powerful," Raitt recalls. "And a lot of it was spearheaded by the accident at Three Mile Island, and the success of the movie The China Syndrome."
The incident at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear power plant near Middletown, Penn., on March 28, 1979, was the most serious in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, even though it led to no deaths or injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby community. It brought about sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations.
It also caused the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to tighten and heighten its regulatory oversight.
But now, with Congress pushing energy legislation, and with 31 new reactors on the drawing boards, the musicians started getting e-mails from activist friends to draft their help.
Reaching the most people this time won't mean a series of concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden, though. The activists are set on YouTube.com, the video-sharing Web site.
"I'm telling you, we've got to beware. It's time to stop," says blues singer Ben Harper, who along with Raitt and others rewrote the famous '70s protest song For What It's Worth.
They've also started a petition drive.
Explains Jackson Browne: "There's a new energy bill that supports clean energy only. Language has been inserted in the bill that supports nuclear power — which is not clean and not safe. Let's get it off the books now."
The Nuclear Energy Institute has fired back with its own YouTube video.
"We should move beyond the emotional arguments of the past 30 years," says Elizabeth King, a young Nuclear Energy Institute staff member who is also a musician.
"For What It's Worth is a great song with a powerful message. It reminds us to stop, look around and question what's going on" — but not to let emotions rule.
After all, King adds, nuclear power doesn't emit the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
"So, for what it's worth, I support clean and safe nuclear energy for me and for future generations. Maybe you should, too," King says in the YouTube message.
Raitt says she knows that their message might be harder to sell this time, considering the attention to global warming and the fact that there hasn't been a major nuclear accident for years.
"Harder but not impossible," she asserts. "The reason why the artists are speaking out is, No. 1, we're citizens and we have to live in this planet; and we want to survive as well as our children. And we just feel like one side has been presented and the other side has to step up to the plate."
The graying stars may not have the drawing power they once did with younger masses.
But Robert Dreyfuss, a longtime contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, says that may not be what they're going for.
"It's important for baby boomers to reach out to other baby boomers. Because ... they're the ones in the positions of power, and those are the people you want to reach," he says.