Honicker vs. Hendrie: A Lawsuit to End Atomic Power (1978)


For the first time on the Web, Honicker vs. Hendrie: A Lawsuit to End Atomic Power (1978) is presented full text.* It’s not a great copy;  the book’s tightly bound condition and fading typeface make it less than a perfect scan. Nevertheless, Honicker vs. Hendrie, even in this diminished state, remains historically relevant and a compelling statement on the potential harm of the nuclear fuel cycle. Moreover, Honicker vs. Hendrie is revolutionary for its discussion of human rights, including the “deprivation of life,” the “right of the people to be secure in their person,” and informed consent:

May a government agency, in the course of its lawful regulatory process, impose upon a private citizen the risk of death, or a health burden which the individual citizen does not consent to bear? (p. 142)

Honicker vs. Hendrie or In the Matter of Petition for Emergency and Remedial Action, Jeannine Honicker, Petitioner, was written with assistance of lawyers from The Farm “representing a mother whose daughter contracted leukemia — are questioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s constitutional right to bombard people with low-level atomic radiation. The case is currently up before the Supreme Court of the United States” (“Nuclear power“). The Petition sought to

…compel the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to cease operation of all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle except those involving isolation of hazards from the biosphere, to undertake all measures necessary to prevent or lessen the impact of emergency conditions already created, and to begin emergency and remedial action within 30 days. (p.1)

Ms. Honicker is described in the Petition as “a citizen intervenor and petitioner to intervene at licensing actions before the Atomic Safety Licensing Board for nuclear fuel cycle facilities in Tennessee. She is a member of Churchwomen United. League of Women Voters, Safe Energy for Tennessee, Catfish Alliance, and Southminster Presbyterian Church, but represents herself as a private citizen in the present petition” (p. 3).

The evolution of the case is outlined in a book written by Ms. Honicker, Shutdown: Nuclear Power on Trial (Summertown, TN: Book Pub. Co., 1979), and is worth reporting here for its dramatic background:

The late Congressman Clifford Allen of Tennessee spent his last Thanksgiving Day composing a press release about the severe underestimates of radiation released into the biosphere from the nuclear fuel cycle. He had just received some alarming information, a copy of the memo written by Dr. Walter Jordan, a member of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and a former Assistant Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratories. In 1977, in what has come to be known as the “Jordan Memorandum,” Dr. Jordan disclosed that the estimates of the releases of radon gas from the nuclear fuel cycle had been 100,000 times too low. Dr. Jordan’s figures showed that as many as one hundred deaths could eventually result from each day that the nuclear power industry continued in operation.

With Congressman Allen as he composed his press release was Jeannine Honicker, a Nashville businesswoman. Jeannine’s daughter, Linda, had contracted leukemia at age nineteen, but recovered after a difficult and complicated bone marrow transplant. Jeannine’s husband, Dolph, News Editor for the Nashville Tennessean, had written Linda’s story for the Reader’s Digest.

In the process of learning about leukemia, Jeannine discovered something else. Leukemia is one disease which has been shown to be caused by radiation. According to health physicists, a doubling of the spontaneous rate of leukemias might be part of the price we would pay if we used nuclear-generated electricity. Jeannine was among more than thirty intervenors in the licensing process for the world’s largest nuclear plant at Hartsville, Tennessee. Joining with nuclear opponents in ten southern states, she helped to found Catfish Alliance. Following Clifford Allen’s death, she ran for his seat in Congress, unsuccessfully.

In early 1977 Jeannine met Stephen Gaskin, founder of The Farm, a religious community in Summertown, Tennessee, and Albert Bates, a paralegal associated with Farm Legal. They agreed to help prepare a case against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

On July 29, 1978, a Petition for Emergency and Remedial Action was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, citing the Jordan Memorandum and other recent government disclosures and asking that the Commission suspend the licenses of the nuclear industry pending a complete investigation of the biological effects of low-level ionizing radiation.

When the Commission did not respond on an emergency basis, a suit was filed in Federal Court in Nashville, seeking an injunction to shut down the nuclear fuel cycle. (p. 7-8)

The case can be followed here, here, and through the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari.


* In uploading this book to the Web, I sought permission from The Book Publishing Company @ The Farm. They informed me the copyright reverted to Jeannine Honicker. I could not locate this info in the Library of Congress Copyright Catalog.