Sacramento stories: Rancho Seco nuclear plant protest (March 31, 1979)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was first published in the Sacramento Bee on April 1, 1979:

Thirteen nuclear protesters scaled the main gate to SMUD’s Rancho Seco plant Saturday and were arrested by sheriff’s deputies for trespassing.

A few of the 150 others who cheered them on with cries of “Shut down now, no meltdown later” vowed to remain at the site on a hunger strike until the 13 are freed.

The well-organized but peaceful demonstration, touched off by an accident at a similar nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa., began Friday night with a candlelight vigil. Some participants stayed in a nearby farmhouse overnight.

SMUD’s low-key response included providing coffee and doughnuts and arranging to have one of the group’s songs copied. But the utility was firm in saying no one could be inside the plant’s 8-foot security fence.

“We had hoped no one would feel obliged to go over the fence,” said William Hammond, official in charge of security and personnel for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. “We don’t like arresting people.”

Guards warned the protesters they had vice minutes to retreat but deputies delayed 20 minutes before separating the handlocked demonstrators and carrying them carefully to a paddy wagon about 12:30 p.m.

When some remaining demonstrators blocked the gate on the outside, SMUD officials told sheriff’s deputies not to arrest them. Deputies used an alternate gate to transport the arrested demonstrators to county jail in downtown Sacramento.

Many demonstrators were veterans of the months-long campaign against Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon reactor near San Luis Obispo.