THERE HASN'T BEEN much word lately from the Prairie Island Coalition (formerly the Prairie Island Coalition Against Nuclear Storage); members have had their heads buried deep inside boxes of documents. And if you haven't heard much from their nemesis, Northern States Power, it's because they've been trying to figure out how to keep the activists away from the files.
In 1993, NSP became the latest in a string of nuclear plant operators to sue Westinghouse for selling it allegedly bad reactor equipment. Similar suits had been filed around the country; most are proceeding far from public view, with company attorneys quietly exchanging confidential documents. But in Minnesota, a federal magistrate granted the PIC intervenor status in 1994, meaning that, theoretically, the group could look at all the potential evidence in the suit--including some of the industry's most closely held secrets about how their reactors work and how safe they are.
Not surprisingly, neither NSP nor Westinghouse has been too happy about that idea. At first NSP wouldn't let Prairie Island Coalition representatives into its plant because they had arrest records (from protests); eventually they agreed to bring the documents to the offices of their law firm, Briggs & Morgan. Ever since then, the two sides have been engaging in a bizarre dance that involves NSP representatives bringing in boxfuls of documents; Coalition reps reviewing them and asking to be allowed to make copies; NSP refusing; and the two sides going back to court. And the stakes have only been getting higher.
Last month, Federal Magistrate Franklin Noel ruled that NSP could not keep the coalition from seeing reports by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, an industry group formed after the Three Mile Island accident to produce blunt, and strictly internal, reports on reactor safety. On the day of the hearing, lawyers from all the titans in the nuclear industry packed the courtroom; they were back again this Monday, when the magistrate again refused to declare the documents off-limits. "It's amazing," says George Crocker, who's helping spearhead the Prairie Island Coalition effort. "We have all of them lined up against us now. Siemens, Kerr McGee, you name it. It's the global industry realizing that we got inside their tent." Crocker's group is now trying to figure out how to fly themselves to Pittsburgh, to start the whole process over again with Westinghouse's documents.