Earth Day Success Story

Bodega Bay

When you look at this photo, and then the next one, you can see what Bodega Bay is in 2017 (color photo), compared to what it was about to become in 1963 (B/W photo)–a nuclear power plant.



PGandE Nuclear Reactor Plant Project, Bodega Bay, CA. 1963. Photo by Karl Kortum, Courtesy Sonoma Co. Museum

If it hadn’t been for a determined group of ruffled citizens, outraged residents, and concerned scientists, this sparkling northern California bay would be filled today with backwater from a nuclear reactor site…or worse.


Great Egret fishing at Bodega Bay


It was the perfect location for a nuclear reactor plant, slated to be the biggest nuclear generator in history. Requiring abundant water to moderate the internal heat of fission, the nuclear plant was positioned to tower over the Pacific Ocean where it could use the ocean waters as a convenient coolant.

Western Gull, Bodega Bay

California’s powerful utility company, PG and E, had already applied for the permit, dug the pit, installed rebar, and set up for construction. Having begun the project in 1958, the power company was gaining momentum by the early 1960s.

Bodega Bay oceanside

Then came the heroes. There were many of them–they changed the course of history in Bodega Bay. Harold Gilliam, Karl and Bill Kortum, Joel Hedgpeth, David Pesonen, Doris Sloan, Hazel Mitchell, and Rose Gaffney — to name a few.


There was also a geophysicist, Pierre Saint-Amand, who did seismology tests and concluded that building a nuclear plant atop the active San Andreas Fault was a terrible idea.


These people didn’t know it then, but they were early environmentalists.


They spread the word. Hearings, protests, surveys, investigations, and lobbying ensued.


In 1964 the power company withdrew its application and left the site.  Read the full story here.


Bodega Bay Harbor Marina

Killdeer and seaweed at Bodega Bay








Originally it was called Campbell Cove, at Bodega Head; then it was touted as Atomic Park. When the utility company dug the 70-foot hole, the new name became Hole in the Head. And it’s still called that today.


Bodega Bay Hole in the Head

Soon the hole filled up with rainwater, and native shrubs and plants began to grow. Today, over half a century later, it is a tranquil little pond.


One day I stood there and counted five different species of raptors overhead at one time. The raptors like the updraft from the hillside.


Bodega Bay clamming

Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean host a vast wealth of marine mammals year-round, including harbor seal pups and migrating gray whales. Clean and cool waters are lively with invertebrates, crustaceans, salmon and steelhead; Dungeness crab are the holiday draw.


Marbled Godwit

Over 200 bird species come to Bodega Bay, including migrating shorebirds like the marbled godwit; they spend the winter months here on the Pacific Flyway.


Before there even was an Earth Day, or anything called environmentalists, here lived a courageous community who fought to keep the earth intact.  Fortunately for us, they won.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted.

For more Bay Area history, check out my latest mystery novel.

Available at Amazon and other etailers

or via publisher


$6.99 ebook, $20.00 paperback



bodega head

Bodega Bay, Pacific Ocean. Photo: Richard James,, courtesy Bay Nature Mag.



95 thoughts on “Earth Day Success Story

  1. An excellent example of how we can fight the big guys who only have dollar signs in mind, to the detriment of the environment and quality of life of residents. A similar success story happened at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah/Colorado. Echo Park, a lovely spot along the river in a beautiful canyon was to be dammed for a recreational project. Early environmentalists put a stop to this as well. The fight never ends.

    • There’s so many different perspectives in this world, and the environment is a low priority for many, which is a problem as the population increases and we need our open spaces. We are so lucky there were people out there pressing for the environment even before Teddy Roosevelt took hold, and yes, the fight never ends. I’m going to check out the story on Dinosaur NP, thanks Cindy. BTW, when I link back to hissyfitsandflibbertygibbets, it comes up blank. I know you enjoy Earth Day every day, Cindy, I appreciate that.

  2. I’m happy to read a success story in celebration of Earth Week. Mankind’s love of the ocean is universal, and it confuses me that many balk at protecting it. And why did I not know you were a mystery writer? Congratulations on your new novel.

  3. Great post, and it looks worthy of preservation. Energy vs conservation is a tough balancing act. We can’t shutter every project because people need power. Bodega Bay is preserved, but the Colorado River no longer flows to the sea. Idaho’s salmon no longer run all the way up the Snake River. I can’t help but believe that Jackass Flats would be a great place to build a dozen of these things. Maybe the aquifer under it isn’t suitable.

    • Craig, ifyouget a chance please check out my longer response to your comment here. I may be in the minority, since I think of people over animals when it comes to the world’s condition. Mainly, my Dad was a nuclear engineer for NASA and although I don’t completely understand his body of work, I hold his personal thoughts close to my own heart. I wrote a more passionate response in Jet’s comment section. Take care, Robin

  4. So glad this is a success story– so easily could have been disasters and a good lesson for all of us to know that we can make a difference–thanks for sharing

    • I agree, Bill. Some folks back then did think that they didn’t have a chance of fighting it, but then the earthquake and fault perspective got added, and the Atomic Commission gave it a negative report. whew — how lucky we are today! I always appreciate your visits, dear Bill.

  5. Jet, if the very concerned citizens had not taken action to preserve such a lovely place for wildlife and respite for humans all Bodega Bay would be completely destroyed; such a natural preserve. We have to be thankful for those previous generations who were able to foresee plans for future generations.

  6. This is definitely a good news story Jet and much needed these days. If only the developers of such projects could see the bigger picture, look further into the future and be a bit more holistic in their thinking, perhaps they would realise that more money is to be made (thinking in their terms) from an approach that is environmentally sustainable than potentially destructive. We still need to change their mindset.

    • Yes, it’s true, Alastair. Long-term and big picture is still not the popular way…but we keep shaping what we can, don’t we. Always a pleasure to see you here, my friend~~

  7. Thanks for sharing this wonderful success story for Earth Day. Looking at the beautiful photos it is difficult to imagine how different things would appear if the early environmentalists had not acted. I noticed under the Rose Gaffney link a documentary was mentioned and I wondered if you had seen the film? Thanks for sharing the story and another beautiful place and looking forward to eventual updates on the next book.

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed the post today, ACI, and appreciate your visiting the link. No, I have not see the documentary, but I would like to. I’m so grateful to her, she’s the feisty one who wouldn’t sell her property to the utility company. The new book is moving along well. I have the foundation, plot, setting, protagonist, and 3/4 of the characters worked out. Thanks for asking 🙂 And have a wonderful weekend, I hope you get to see that curious sandhill crane on the trail again!

  8. What a beautiful place with an abundance of species. Thanks for this story, it is timely as we see certain dollar oriented people championing coal and other unclean non-renewables. A nuclear power plant on the San Andreas? How did they even begin to dig that hole? I know, it isn’t really a mystery…
    Thanks again, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • They began digging the hole without a permit, so confident they were that they would get the permit. Technically, according to them at the time, they weren’t really officially under construction yet. I’m so happy the opposition was strong and united and smart. And don’t get me going on coal, yikes. You and Mrs. PC have yourselves a delightful weekend — I know you will. My thanks and smiles to you, PC~~

  9. After the lesson of Fukushima,putting a rector near the shore is out right a bad idea.We are so successful as a species,that our numbers are affecting very large ecospheres.True,a rector is a problem for the environemnt but our numbers are a even more so.
    Great story Jet!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the success story, Wayne. And I agree with you in that our numbers are a big problem, and getting bigger in every way. I’m glad there are still places you can take your boat and be alone with the bears, and I’m glad I can go to Bodega Bay and enjoy fresh sea air and lots of wildlife. Have a wonderful weekend filled with spectacular sunsets~~

  10. What a great story. We need some of those rabble rousers here in Texas where coal is wanting to push back in the power forefront.

    Happy Earth Day, Jet, as I’m sure — like me — you celebrate it every day.

    • I do celebrate the earth every day, and I am happy you do too, Shannon. You love your soil especially, as close to the earth as it gets. My best wishes to you, and thanks~~

  11. I was wondering if anyone was going to mention Fukushima and one commenter did. It’s not hard to imagine a disaster like that one happening on our side of the ‘Ring of Fire’. Thank heavens for the success of the brilliant and caring folks who prevented it from happening.

    • Oh yes, the Fukushima nuclear disaster is foremost in our minds now, and fortunately it was a foreseeable disaster to be averted by those Bodega Bay pioneer environmentalists. And aren’t we lucky. Great to hear from you, Gunta, as always. Many thanks~~

    • Well it is really a bit of a downer to be an environmentalist and hear nothing but doom and gloom all the time, so I think it’s important to remember to tap into the successes and strengths that also exist. So glad you enjoyed it, Ronnie.

    • My warm thanks, Sriram, for your warm words and visit — it’s a pure pleasure to share this wonderful Earth Day story with you, a devoted patron of the planet.

    • Sometimes we get immersed in all the troubling news that we forget to give a nod to all the people before us who worked so hard and made amazing accomplishments. I’m glad to share this story, and as always, Eddie, I really appreciate your visits, kind words, and your inspiring posts.

  12. Jet I am left with shivers after reading your post. I had no idea about this history! Amazing what the power of people can do. Lovely to see that the area has returned to a natural state and home to so many species of birds and plant life. Bravo I say!

    • Thanks so much, Sue, for your kind words and acknowledgement. I have since watched a documentary that a friend gave me highlighting many other Bay Area environmental success stories. It is, indeed, amazing what people can do when they work together. It’s great to have you back on this continent, and I’m so happy your African adventure was filled with fun and beauty.

      • It was the trip that dreams are made of. We now see why people are so drawn to return to Africa. Truly we need to live to be 150 to fit everything in. 🙂

      • We spent our long-saved house deposit to first go to Africa, then I found a new job that paid more so we could keep going back…and that’s just what we did. I’m sure we’ll go back again, because…well, you know. lol.

  13. I shudder to think of a nuclear reactor in this location…..great win for the early environmentalist!! What a beautiful area for wildlife…thanks for sharing…perfect Earth Day blog!!

    • There are more success stories, in fact I already have one for next Earth Day. The whole world would be developed and without parks if it weren’t for our environmental predecessors. I’m happy you enjoyed the Bodega Bay story, Susan, thanks so much for your visit.

    • I was so happy I could get those two contrasting photos to work out. It took some doing to get the present-day version. Thanks so much, BJ, for your wonderful visits and comments.

  14. I am like the person who felt it is a tightrope situation (Craig, thank you!!). My Dad was a very early proponent of ecology and environment. In the sixties we had a compost pile, we recycled newspapers and glass bottles. He worked as a nuclear engineer for NASA. He helped set up Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Plum Brook in Sandusky, Ohio nuclear power plants. He also tested rocket parts for heat resistance. He created on a team in the 70’s, a non-polluting gas engine for cars. All the Detroit car makers~ GM, Ford, etc . . . said it was too costly.
    Sadly, our future depends on things we created in NASA, including automaton hands and robots. Medicine has been directly benefitted by their development of so many “future” things. When he passed away, Jet, in January, 2001, I was glad Dad didn’t live to see 9/11 nor the backwards direction our country has been going. I have honorary plaques and his typed projects in a box. Someday, I hope to see them come into fruition. Lovely that the animals, California fault lines and ocean were considered but hope to see atoms that are split being used for energy over coal or gas. People will be our concern my grandies and great grandchildren’s live.
    Maybe someday! Nuclear power took us into space and landed a moon rover on Mars! hugs, Robin

    • I very much appreciate your side of nuclear power, Robin, and your understanding of the positive side of it, and the people who devoted their life to it, including your father. There are still some unhealthy aspects to this form of energy and the waste it creates, and perhaps the science will evolve further. It still has a ways to go. Since I am not even close to knowing much about it, I can only say I am happy this particular nuclear power plant was not built on a volatile fault line. Thanks so much for your input, Robin, it is appreciated.

  15. What a wonderful true story!
    Yet, much is to be done. The planet is over crowded, and humanity is edging nature out quite nicely.
    I’m very embarrassed about our Canadian tar sands oil project. It was an extremely short sighted project.
    Makes me think of your last post I read, about the Tropic birds. One rips out the tail feathers of the other for the food. There is no care, only the need.

  16. So delighted to have shared this experience with you, Jet, and to have heard — and read — your informed and thought-provoking understanding of an important and complex issue. And, wasn’t it the Godwit that we saw flying en masse across the bay? Incredible sight.

    • Yes, we were very jazzed about that huge flock of godwits, I’m happy you remembered it! Athena caught a great photo of that too, which I’ll share sometime. Many happy memories of our day together at Bodega Bay, dear Nan, what a joy that was. Thank you. 🙂

  17. How could anyone think that building a nuclear plant atop the active San Andreas Fault was a good idea?

    Great that this battle was won by committed people with common sense. We need more like them today. Fantastic to see that the damage that was done has been healed and a nice pond created, attracting birds and other wildlife. Thanks for this story, Jet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s