Josna Rege

102. No Nuclear News

In 1970s, 1980s, Inter/Transnational, Politics, Stories, United States on March 15, 2011 at 3:44 am

No  Nuclear News, or NNN, was a cooperative clipping service that members of the Boston chapter of the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance ran between 1977 and 1985—for more than seven years. With subscribers from across the United States and around the world, we produced a monthly newspaper with updates on all aspects of nuclear power and weapons: the global grassroots opposition; accidents and cover-ups; the health effects of ionizing radiation; the different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle (mining, milling, enrichment and reprocessing, reactor operation, decommissioning, and waste disposal—or lack thereof); the economics of nuclear power production; security implications; industry campaigns; and government regulation. Besides the regular monthly issue we also produced periodic special issues, all completely self-supported by sales and subscriptions.

cover design by Eve Melnechuk

One of the most exhilarating aspects of the project was its cooperative nature. In exchange for a free subscription, people committed themselves to clipping relevant articles regularly from their own major newspaper(s) or sending us their organization’s newsletter.  This was in the days before the Internet, when the big city dailies were thriving. We came to know and love the independent reporting in papers like The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We looked forward to receiving each new issue of Akwesasne Notes from the Mohawk Nation and the latest newsletter from California’s Abalone Alliance or Oregon’s Trojan Decommissioning Alliance.

Of course, all these publications were produced in hard copy only. Layout was a monthly late-night party when we cut-and-pasted, breathed the fumes of rubber cement, rolled the backs of the clippings with an electric waxer, and burned the midnight oil in our spacious industrial premises in Boston’s South End, to the accompaniment of loud punk, ska, reggae, and rock music. At first we photocopied the issues, also late at night, courtesy of a friend who operated the copy machines at a local company. Later, as our operation grew, we had the issues printed on newsprint, with higher-quality covers and centerfolds. After layout and printing came the laborious process of mailing. With the exception of the international subscriptions which we sent out by air mail to Japan, Germany, and Australia, among other countries, we shipped each issue by bulk mail, pre-sorting and bundling them by zipcode.

illustration by Jim Turner

Besides the clipping, sorting, and layout, there was the more creative work of writing the editorials and producing the artwork. Every issue had a centerfold of cartoons, many of  which were original. During our subscription drives we created special NNN giveaways—postcards and other special offers, such as perforated sheets of color-printed stamps, each one with a different nuclear weapons system on it, or fluorescent green-and-yellow bumper stickers bearing the slogan, “Uranium Kills in the Mines and the Mills.”

artwork by Jim Turner; design & printing by Andrew Melnechuk

Our subject matter was grim, but our camaraderie sustained us. How, otherwise, could we have continued to produce NNN continuously for seven years, without missing a single issue, without a penny of outside funding, entirely on a volunteer basis?  Most of us were in our twenties, and as the Reagan era dragged on into the eighties, the vibrant antinuclear movement of the seventies began to flag, we began to get full-time jobs, start cooperative businesses, enrol in graduate school, buy houses, have children, and—after seven long years of running at fever-pitch—burn out.

I remember the very last issue of No Nuclear News, a special issue on toxic wastes, which we had always included in our scope, but not to the extent that we focused on nuclear matters. It was December 2nd, 1984 and the issue had just been printed. As were preparing to mail it, Bhopal happened—the catastrophic release of methyl isocyanate gas at the Union Carbide pesticide facility in Bhopal, India that still remains the worst industrial disaster involving toxic chemicals. We didn’t know what to do; we had to get the special issue out, but we couldn’t mail it without some acknowledgment of what had happened, what was happening (what, in fact, is still happening, as tens of thousands of victims and survivors continue to suffer and have yet to receive justice). Eventually we made up a rubber stamp naming Union Carbide and registering the number of known deaths to date, and stamped the cover of each issue with it. I don’t remember much after this because I was expecting a baby any day, and he was born less than three weeks later. No Nuclear News, which had been such an important part of my life for the past seven years, rapidly became a memory, as there was now another precious something—or someone—keeping me up nights.

Before we shipped our last issue of NNN, we decided to create something to commemorate it. We produced an elegant black-and-white poster featuring a photograph of a brick wall with a shadowy figure crouching beside it, sporting a gas mask. Then, with a variety of handmade stencils, we custom spray-painted each poster, graffiti-like, with different slogans and symbols.

The former members of NNN still have a special bond, no matter how infrequently we see each other these days. Just recently, when Andrew and I met with one of our founding members, she reflected that it might be time to revive No Nuclear News. Our children are now older than we were then and the tools and technology for global information dissemination are altogether different, but the danger is as real, and the need to cooperate and communicate across national lines is as urgent as ever. Any takers?

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. Thank you all for the work you did. It is time for all your prescient work to be used to counter the inevitable whirligig of lies that will be set in motion by the spin meisters. Maybe you could offer the story of NNN and some of it’s content to what is left ( reminds me of another publication of the same period as NNN ) of an alternative press?

    • You are right, Norah, that countering industry propaganda is an important task. To tell the NNN story properly we should scan some of its content before the newsprint disintegrates. Did you have a particular publication in mind?

  2. Somehow, I’m not surprised to hear that you were involved in NNN. That really is a proud legacy, and I agree with Norah that it would be good to write up the history for publication somewhere. Think big. Mother Jones?

  3. The graphics are incredible. They could be a book in themselves. I assume there are more?

    • Somewhere, in boxes in the cellar, newsprint yellowing. We would have to scan them. I’d love to put it in a digital archive, somewhere, though, before it all gets lost.

  4. NNN Clippings in boxes, Uranium Kills in the Mines and the Mills and Stop WIPP bumper stickers drying on clothes racks all in the front room of the Dartmouth house. Times change, but the issues remain.

    • Michael, No wonder poor Jill was frustrated at times–I’d conveniently forgotten about bumper stickers drying all over the living room! (And now all that stuff is in our basement and attic!) BTW, we just found an old cassette with a bunch of songs by Tommy O’Conner (we think his name was), including “Heart Core Meltdown” and “The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.” Do you remember him coming by the house with his terrific songs? From Heart Core Meltdown: I thought I could get rid of you, my love/By burying the past with all its pain/No matter how deep down I dug/All those leaks I could not plug/You keep seeping through the fissures of my brain. And from The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant: They said the power of the atom is the greatest ever known/And New Mexico now has it for your very own/We’re here to pull the strings that will control this force for you/It’s good for mass annihilation and there’s peaceful uses too. Love, Jo

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