Dear friends

  • Chuck Worley, anti-nuclear activist

    Hilary Watts
  • 'Valley Curtain,' in Rifle, Colorado, by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

    National Gallery of Art
 

BOMBS AWAY!

This issue’s cover story mentions Project Plowshare, the federal government’s campaign, during the 1960s and early ’70s, to find "peaceful" uses for nuclear bombs. Longtime HCN subscriber Chuck Worley of Cedaredge, Colo., remembers it well: Worley, now 87, and his former plumbing partner, the late Fred Smith, protested the use of nuclear bombs to shake loose natural gas reserves in western Colorado.

On Sept. 10, 1969, the day of the blast known as Project Rulison, a small group of protesters gathered on the highway outside of Rifle with picket signs. No one was allowed within four miles of the site, and the highway was closed for fear of falling rubble. When the bomb went off, Worley says, it felt like "a wave that went through the earth; it shocked you, bounced you."

The shock wave reverberated throughout western Colorado. Shortly after, Worley was at a plumbing job when he wanted to check the time. "Are you looking for a clock?" the lady of the house asked, glancing at the one on the stove. "Well, don’t look at that one. Ever since Rulison, that thing’s been running backwards."

When the Atomic Energy Commission decided to detonate three more bombs near Meeker, Colo., Worley and Smith found another way to get attention. In August 1972, the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude draped a 1,250-foot-long curtain across craggy Rifle Gap on Highway 235. The night before the installation was unveiled to the public, Worley and Smith crept through the brush to hang their own curtain —16 feet square with anti-nuclear slogans painted on it — across Christo’s orange nylon curtain.

"In the morning, when Christo and the news came out, there was our curtain in front," says Worley. "But the wind was ripping it, and all our paint had come off: All that was left was a few nuclear symbols."

No one knew what to make of the whole thing, he laughs, and he and Smith sneaked off before the artist — or the cops — could figure out what had happened. Those were the days before environmental organizations, says Worley: "You just did your own thing."

CORRECTIONS

Subscriber Alex Levy of Washington, D.C., wrote to tell us that we under-reported the number of animal-vehicle accidents that occur on the nation’s roads each year (HCN, 2/7/05: Caught in the headlights). According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, about 726,000 animal-vehicle crashes are reported annually.

Charles Miller of Mount Prospect, Ill., wrote to chew us out for using "Centigrade," rather than "Celsius" to label the temperatures in the "hockey stick" graph that ran with the story about tree rings and climate change (HCN, 1/24/05: Written in the rings).

And finally, apologies to Marjorie Sill of Reno, Nev., for affiliating her with the Sierra Club in her letter in the Feb. 7 issue. She says she’s a member of the club, but she was writing as an individual, not a member of any group.