Remembering Bill Mitchell

by Ralph Hutchison
Coordinator, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

When I entered the room at Highlander Center in 1989, I was immediately overwhelmed. Everyone else in the room, it seemed, had been deeply immersed in activism for decades. They knew tons more than I did, were full of confidence, ideas, fire. I was quiet, and took a spot off to the side as I usually do when I am figuring out a new situation.

The one person quieter than me was in the back of the room, observing everything, rarely speaking, slipping out now and again for a smoke.

The second day, as I walked across the driveway to dinner, the quiet man stepped up beside me and began to talk. Calm and deliberate, he asked me to consider serving on the board of the Military Production Network. I was taken aback—my first meeting? Why me? He explained that he had listened to what I said and thought it would be good if I took on some responsibility. I said I would think about it. That was my introduction to Bill Mitchell.

Eventually, I agreed and was elected—not as much of an honor as you might think, as everyone who was ever nominated was elected. The Board would meet on conference calls for the most part. It would be a couple years before Dick Dillman, computer whiz for Greenpeace, would set up a private communication system for us at Bill’s request, long before the rest of the world was wired or had heard of email.

Two weeks later, a package arrived at my home. I opened it and found an answering machine. Plug it in, said the note from Bill.

That was what he did. He equipped us to do our work. The first grant money OREPA received came through Bill Mitchell. Not directly. Directly it came from Larry Kressley of Public Welfare Foundation, but it was Bill who told him to look us up. Then Bill went to work on the W. Alton Jones foundation, and they contracted with Ben Senturi to develop a docket to support grassroots groups working on nuclear weapons, waste and cleanup issues.

Almost thirty years later, OREPA thrives, bearing witness to nuclear weapons activities in Oak Ridge, strategizing and collaborating with colleagues around the country in what is now the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. We have reached thousands of people. We have delayed construction of the next generation of bomb plants for more than a decade. We have grown stronger every year. And if not for Bill Mitchell, for his wisdom and foresight and most of all for his remarkable commitment to empowering grassroots groups to make their own decisions and pursue their goals with adequate resources, we would not exist at all.

At one point in the life of the MPN, Bill was accused of being a “hidden hand,” orchestrating the activities of the organization. This was an insult to the members, all of whom were responsible for what the organization did. And it was a misunderstanding of Bill. He was quiet, not hiding. Holding back, not pushing an agenda. His goal was to empower others; he did it with quiet confidence leavened with self-doubt. A neat trick, but he pulled it off.

I remember one evening in Amarillo, Texas. The MPN had gone to Amarillo for our meeting because we had a big blank spot on our map of the nuclear weapons complex—we had groups at all the major weapons sites except Pantex, the assembly/disassembly plant. Bill had wrangled an invitation from STAND, working to revive a group that had been Serious Texans Against Nuclear Dumping in an earlier life. When he asked me to step into the back room with Beverly Gattis, lovely, well manicured and coiffed dentist’s wife who was the local STAND person, I recognized the look on her face—she was nearly dumbstruck by the experience of two days in the room with all these veteran activists. David Lewis, then of Physicians for Social Responsibility joined us. We talked about the evening’s agenda. David said it was great STAND was participating. Bev said she was not sure why, she didn’t feel like she knew half of what was happening in the room. “I don’t have any idea what I am supposed to do,” she said. David smiled. “You’re supposed to go out there and ask us to help you.” Bev’s eyes overflowed with tears. Bill sat quietly and nodded. It wasn’t his job to say anything—he just brought people together to let them be themselves. And in front of him, you wanted to be your best self.

Oh, and he was a lot of fun. I don’t recall the particulars of how this came to be, but for some reason I sent him a fake letter from Richard Nixon that said, simply, “I resign.” Some time later I was in the MPN office/closet in Seattle and saw it was framed, along with a picture of Nixon, in the office. When Bill was given parts to play in MPN skits, he was all in. Acting, it turns out, was not his second calling, or even his third. But he was a trooper! Later, when we created a parody musical to tease Bill and Sharon, they proved they could take it as well as they dished it out.

Over the years, I spoke to Bill only rarely. A common friend of ours in Tennessee would ask every time I saw him what I heard from Bill, so I thought of him often. When I reached out, with a question or seeking advice, he was always there, always generous with his time, always still caring.

I miss him. But I have to qualify that just a bit. Because I am, thanks to Bill Mitchell, a different person. A little bit of him resides in me. I don’t have any other way to explain why I feel so strongly about grassroots empowerment, and leadership development, and collaborative work. I don’t have any other explanation for why I think it’s important to be generous with my time and advice, and patient with people who are feeling their way forward. I only know it happened for me.

I don’t think Bill would be completely comfortable getting public credit. I think he would more likely wish those who respected him and his work would credit him by carrying that torch on. So thanks, Bill. We’re doing our best.

In Memoriam: Bill Mitchell

In memoriam Bill Mitchell, visionary co-founder of the Military Production Network, the predecessor to today's Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. In his honor the Alliance has created the Bill Mitchell Next Generation Leadership Development Fund to attract and support youth in watchdogging the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex.

Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, an ANA friend, wrote this piece remembering Bill, with an assist from ANA's longtime consultant Bob Schaeffer. You can also read about Bill in the High Country News.

Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, a long-time ANA member, wrote this piece in remembrance of Bill.

Thank you Bill for your vision! We will continue to fight for cleanup, contractor accountability and a future world free of nuclear weapons. Cleanup, not bombs!

Some photos of Bill are below. But first, this video shows ANA's work with a group of young people at the 2016 DC Days.

ANA Comments on DOE's "Consent-Based Siting"

On July 28, 2016, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability submitted comments about "consent-based siting" of high-level radioactive waste.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has held nine public meetings across the country since January, regarding so-called "Consent-Based Siting" of centralized interim storage sites (de facto permanent parking lot dumps) for high-level radioactive waste. 

The current DOE “consent-based siting process” is premature and should be terminated. Before any repository siting process can begin, there must be a public process to develop the new technical standards.

Congress must enact legislation that defines how free, prior, and informed consent can occur, including what legal or constitutional constraints prevent future congresses from overriding consent agreements or withholding funding.

To read ANA's full comments, click here.

Trillion Dollar Trainwreck: A New Report from ANA

Proliferation begins at home. That has never been clearer than now, as the United States embarks on what many scientists at its nuclear weapons laboratories are calling "the second nuclear age." The United States plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to "modernize" all aspects of its nuclear arsenal: the bombs and warheads, the production facilities, the delivery systems, and command and control systems.

Questions for the Department of Energy on FY2015 Budget

ALLIANCE FOR NUCLEAR ACCOUNTABILITY

A national network of organizations working to address issues of

nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup

 

Ashish Sinha:    (301) 910-9405  asinha@ananuclear.org

Bob Schaeffer:  (239) 395-6773  bobschaeffer@earthlink.net

QUESTIONS FOR THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE)

FY 2015 NUCLEAR WEAPONS, REACTOR AND CLEANUP BUDGET


The U.S. nuclear budget is out of control. Huge cost overruns for unnecessary production facilities are common.  At the same time, cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution from weapons research, testing, production and waste disposal is falling behind. The Department of Energy (DOE) budget for FY 2015 will reveal the Obama Administration’s nuclear priorities.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a 25-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear sites, will be looking at the following issues. For details, contact the ANA leaders listed at the end of this Media Advisory.

 

-- Does the budget reflect the Administration's commitment to curtail unnecessary spending on the $19 billion Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge by downsizing it to the capacity needed to support stockpile surveillance, maintenance and limited life extension?

 

-- Does the budget address the looming deficit in nuclear weapons dismantlement capacity so the United States can meet its international arms reduction commitments?

 

-- Will the Obama Administration articulate its alternative plutonium strategy to the $6 billion “CMRR Nuclear Facility,” which was effectively cancelled in 2012? Is any expanded production needed when expert studies have found that existing plutonium pits are durable?

 

-- Will NNSA reduce funding or impose meaningful milestones at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which performed less than half of its planned Stockpile Stewardship experiments in FY2013 and still has not achieved ignition.

 

 -- Is the budget a de facto cancellation of plans to pursue “interoperable warhead designs” by imposing a delay of five years or more on the program? How much money will taxpayers save?

 

-- Does the FY 2015 budget seek more than the $537 million requested for the B61 Life Extension Program last year? Will the “First Production Unit” from this $10 billion program continue to slip to 2020 or later delaying needed routine replacement of critical components?

 

-- How much of the additional $26 billion in Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel’s “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” will go to DOE nuclear weapons programs? 

 

-- Will the Administration support increased funding for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to provide independent oversight of DOE projects given the many cost over-runs, schedule delays, safety issues and technical problems?

 

-- What is the projected life-cycle cost of the plutonium fuel (MOX) program at Savannah River? Is DOE’s internal cost assessment consistent with ANA’s estimate of $27 billion? When will it be released? Have any nuclear reactor operators committed to using MOX fuel?

 

-- Does the Request include continued funding for design and licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which private investors have been unwilling to finance fully because of concerns about viability and risks? Does DOE have plans to finance SMR construction?

 

--How much additional Environmental Management (EM) funding would be necessary in FY 2015 to meet all legally mandated cleanup milestones? States say cleanup agreements at a dozen major sites are underfunded by hundreds of million dollars. 

-- In which states does DOE face fines and lawsuits for missing milestones due to budget shortfalls? Which states are enforcing their binding clean-up agreements by imposing fines and taking further legal action?

 

-- What is the high range for total life-cycle clean-up costs (LCC) for EM sites Because of funding shortfalls, are LCC costs continuing to increase? In the FY 2013 Budget Request High Range LCC was $308.5 billion, and in the FY 2014 Request LCC was $330.9 billion.


-- Does the FY 2015 Request include funds to cleanup contamination from the recent radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)?  How much will this incident delay shipments from the Idaho National Lab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge?

-- How much money is included for construction of new double-shell tanks to replace those leaking radioactive waste at the Hanford site? Are funds included for emergency pumping of tanks found to be leaking? 

-- Is DOE allocating sufficient funds to monitor and address ignitable hydrogen gas buildup in Hanford's nuclear waste tanksas recommended by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to protect workers, the public and the environment from possible explosions? 

-- Is an independent review of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant included in the budget request to address concerns about the reliability of many of the parts and materials? 

-- How much money is DOE allocating for building and development of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant based on the current, flawed design and how much on redesign? 

 

-- For information about specific DOE nuclear weapons sites and programs, contact:

Meredith Crafton - Hanford: (206) 292-2850 x26 meredithc@hanfordchallenge.org

Tom Clements - Savannah River and MOX Plant: (803) 240-7268 tomclements329@cs.com

Jay Coghlan - Los Alamos Lab and Life Extension: (505) 989-7342 jay@nukewatch.org

Don Hancock - Environmental Management Program: (505) 262-1862 sricdon@earthlink.net

Ralph Hutchison - Oak Ridge Site and Dismantlement: (865) 776-5050 orep@earthlink.net

Marylia Kelley - Livermore Lab and Life Extension: (925)-443-7148 marylia@trivalleycares.org