Mary Sinclair, who led the successful 1970s-1980s campaign to prevent the Midland, Michigan nuclear power plant from operating, passed away at age 92 on Jan. 14, 2011. Sinclair, inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1990, co-founded Don't Waste Michigan in 1988, which ultimately succeeded in blocking a proposal for a so-called "low" level radioactive waste dump targeted at Michigan by a compact of 8 Midwestern states.
The Midland Daily News, in addition to listing numerous accolades awarded to Mary as an "environmental pioneer," mentioned the "negative community reaction in Midland" to her anti-nuclear activism, which "meant less business at Sinclair’s husband’s law practice," and included "[a] young man who worked at the nuclear plant site [spitting] in her face at the grocery store," as well as "notes [being] left in the family’s yard and their mailbox [being] bombed." The paper did not mention that: some of the notes threatened physical violence, as did anonymous phone calls to the family home; the boycott of her husband's legal practice was widespread and lasted many years; and the brake lines on the family car were intentionally cut, which nearly led to a serious accident while her husband was driving.
In addition to being boycotted, and not being paid for their anti-nuclear activism, the Sinclairs spent over $500,000 of their own money fighting the Midland nuclear power plant, an amount currently worth over a million dollars when adjusted for inflation.
The two reactors were mostly built, but were ultimately abandoned in 1984 for sinking into the ground like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Years later, the CEO of Dow, which had supported the Consumers Power reactors for their electricity and steam supply for its own chemical operations, took Mary out to lunch to thank her for preventing the even worse mistake of ever firing up the plant, although he never made a public acknowledgement of the company's change of heart.
Mary's anti-nuclear leadership extended well beyond the Great Lakes, to colleagues around the country. Beyond Nuclear board member Kay Drey said "to describe Mary’s intelligence, courage, persistence, good judgment --- and even how she comprehended the humor of the zillions of construction mistakes [at Midland nuclear power plant] --- would require a whole book, at least." Beyond Nuclear board chairman Bob Backus recollected "I fondly remember Mary Sinclair, who never failed to let us know of her support during the long and intense Seabrook fight. She always had a good word of advice to go with her encouragement." And Beyond Nuclear staffer Kevin Kamps, who served with Mary on the Don't Waste Michigan board, regards Mary as mentor, as do many in the anti-nuclear movement in Michigan and the Midwest, such as longtime Big Rock Point nuclear power plant watchdogs JoAnne Beemon and Christa Maria of Charlevoix, MI.
Throughout the 1990s, Mary worked against "Nuclear Risks to the Great Lakes," specifically defective and faulty dry cask storage of irradiated nuclear fuel at the Palisades nuclear power plant in southwest Michigan, along the fragile shore of Lake Michigan, drinking water supply for millions downstream. Mary helped convince the Attorney General of the State of Michigan, Frank Kelley, to argue the Palisades dry cask storage case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mary continued addressing such issues well into her 80s, as by filing an emergency enforcement (2.206) petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission challenging the NRC staff's incompetence, and possible perjury, in cask certification and deployment at Palisades. In addition to her absolute devotion to protecting the sacred Great Lakes, Mary also spoke out against the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada national dumpsite for high-level radioactive wastes: in 2002, she wrote U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), urging her to oppose the plan which would have launched barge shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel onto Lake Michigan; Mary's input undoubtedly helped change Sen. Stabenow's mind regarding the Yucca dump from supportive to opposed, given the risks to the Great Lakes which Mary helped bring to her attention.
Mary's legacy is reflected in the coalition (including Don't Waste MI and Beyond Nuclear) efforts against the new Fermi 3 reactor proposed in Monroe, MI, as well as the resistance to the 20 year extension at the trouble-plagued Davis-Besse reactor near Toledo. Longtime Fermi nuclear power plant watchdog Michael Keegan of the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes and Don't Waste Michigan said "Mary Sinclair was simply an amazing woman who changed the course of history. Mary's legacy lives on in all the work that we do and will continue to do in the name of love."
Mary is survived by her five children, John Sinclair of Twisp, Wash.; Peter Sinclair of Midland, a climate crisis activist; Rosemary Sinclair of Greenfield, Mass., with whom Mary lived for the last several years of her life; Tom Sinclair in Littleton, Colo., and Ann Sinclair in Frankfort, an organic food entrepreneur.