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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > A Youth Battles Nukes

At age 19, weighing 110 lbs, Franklin L. Gage is a leading candidate for the title: “America’s toughest kid.”

Working out of a small, drafty bedroom-office in a rowhouse three blocks from Congress, Gage is organizing a national petition drive against nuclear power and for solar energy.

As coordinator for the Task Force Against Nuclear Pollution, a citizen group, this fiercely determined youth works until dawn each day sorting petitions, answering requests for information from all over the country, and informing members of Congress how people in their districts stand on nuclear power hazards.

Young as he is, the soft-spoken Gage is a veteran of ten years struggle against the nukes.

“Until 1965 (when he was nine) I was for nuclear power,” he explains. “Then I learned that Consolidated Edison was not telling the truth about its nuclear plantdestroying fish in the Hudson River.” At that point, ConEd, the giant New York City utility, produced an adversary.

Gage soon learned that the risks of catastrophic radiation release from nuclear power plants and the problems of sabotage, theft of weapons grade materials by terrorists, and radioactive waste disposal were more important than thermal pollution, He vowed to work every waking hour, “as long as it takes,” to stop nuclear power.

Leaving the State University of New York in Purchase, where he was a freshman, Gage came to Washington in early 1974. Only a few weeks earlier, he jolted the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy with a strong denunciation of its irresponsibility over the years in handling the government’s nuclear power program.

The antinuclear petition drive, conceived by another citizen activist, Egan O’Connor, and now run by Gage, is no ordinary collection of names and addresses, It is backed by an impressive array of scientists.

The names are carefully separated by congressional districts, computerized and repeatedly used for informationmailings on the latest developments. There are now over 200,000 names on the list and members of Congress are taking notice.

When Gage asks to see a representative or senator, he quietly says how many people in the member’s district and state have signed petitions for a moratorium on nuclear power. He usually gets an appointment.

These petitions also are used at the state and local level. In New York state, for example, five county governments have endorsed a nuclear moratorium.

Gage’s supporters range far beyond environmentalists and other patriots who are worried about radioactive poisons that stay deadly for thousands of years.

From union locals in South Carolina to a stewardess alumni association in Florida to a women’s temperance group in Pennsylvania, people of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions are demanding action by Congress to stop the nuclear nightmare.

Capitol Hill is indeed stirring. About 35 members of Congress are supporting the Nuclear Reappraisal Act, introduced by conservative Republican Hamilton Fish ofNew York and newly elected Democrat Edward Patterson of New York.

This is more than eight times as many supporters than was the case in 1973. The proposed bill (H.R. 4971) would put a moratorium on the licensing of new nuclear power plants and order a five-year study to be made of the unresolved safety and reliability problems.

As for Gage himself, his immediate needs are indicative of his single-minded citizen mission. “All I want,” he told me recently, “is more volunteers and petition gatherers.”

Not long ago, a nurse in Oklahoma responded to his pleas and collected 3,000 signatures in a short, Herculean effort. Readers who wish to respond or obtain materials can write to Mr. Gage, the teenager, at 153 E. Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. Hurry up, he’ll turn 20 next month.