Today Kristi and I went to visitation to honor the death of Vivian Puckett, a friend of ours. She was 80. Her husband, Al, died maybe 6 or 7 years ago. They were good friends of ours. They spoke truth to power.
Al and Viv lived within a mile or so of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Al was a former employee of the plant who, before there were such things as whistleblowers tried to bring up environmental issues at the plant, and was retailiated against - first by being made to stand without work for a couple years and forced to do nothing for the entire workdays day after day - and then, eventually, being forced out of his job.
He became an outspoken critic of the plant, and eventually became a national voice in speaking the truth about the nuclear industry - in particular the nuclear fuel cycle and the workers that had been abused over the decades in the plants that made up that cycle. He ended up as a key interview in Joby Warrick's series in the Washington Post about the deceptions at the Paducah plant and how the workers had been exposed unknowingly to plutonium and other highly radioactive substances which had caused a lot of health problems in our area. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/daily/aug99/paducah08.htm
In the wake of that article, Congress held hearings and passed legislation that was supposed to give payments to workers, ex-workers, and families of deceased workers that had worked in particular jobs and suffered particular illnesses. Many people and families in our area have received the payouts, which isn't enough for the problems that these exposures have caused. But too many, including Al, either haven't received their payments, or have been stifled at every juncture with lame excuses by DOE and DOL such as, "we can't find your records." How convenient.
Al used to come to every single Citizen's Advisory Board meeting when I was chair, and applied to be on the board. The board, who at first, because of the industry-side members of the CAB, could not get consensus on recommending him for membership. For several years his applications were set aside and denied. He continued to attend, and frequently gave comments during the public comment period. At that time, unlike now, the CAB tried to actually represent those in the community - a substantial number - who were skeptical or had issues with the use of nuclear energy. That is the what the Federal Advisory Committee Act is supposed to require, but DOE has abandoned that now in favor of a rubber stamp board that does what it wants. But that's another story.
Finally, the CAB had an opening for someone from the neighborhood, and no one had been as interested in, knowledgeable of, and dedicated to being involved in the issues surrounding the plant, as Al. One more time he applied. This time, even his opponents on the CAB shrugged and said that it was only right and fair that Al be allowed to join the board - afterall, he was already coming to all the meetings and participating, and no one else from the neighborhood around the plant was doing that. So, we sent DOE a consensus recommendation that Al be allowed to join the CAB.
At this time, 100% of those applicants that we sent a unanimous recommendation that they be put on the board had been accepted by DOE and put on the CAB. Not Al. DOE rejected him, and instead, inserted one of their hand picked applicants who wasn't even a close neighbor of the plant. That was the beginning of the end of my term on the board. Not long after that, 6 other members and I resigned in protest. That's when DOE got the CAB they wanted. But that hasn't been good for the community, and at this point is nothing but a waste of taxpayers' money.
Often Viv was right with him at the CAB meetings, and even when she wasn't, she was right with him in spirit. Vivian felt and supported Al's activism, and she was a strong activist in her own right. Their lives had, together, found the path of living in harmony with the earth as Al's Cherokee heritage taught. Al and Viv spoke out in support of other environmental causes like forest protection, clean air and water, and endangered species. They could be counted to show up at rallies, hearings, sign petitions, write letters, and anything else they could do to help the cause.
When Al died, with health problems no doubt connected to his time employed at the uranium plant, it left a huge gap in our environmental community. Vivian carried on as best she could. But the issues have been changing here, and there have been less protests. Nevertheless, Vivian kept in touch with her environmental friends and always offered strength and support. She never waivered in speaking out for what she felt was right.
Vivian died unexpectedly this week. The loss of Al and Viv is an irreplacable loss. But their memory and legacy is one that inspires and helps to keep us that are left here focused and able to speak out. Now Al and Viv are reunited in so many ways - and we will honor their time here with us. Rest in Peace to Al and Viv.