Bonnie Raitt is a nine-time Grammy winner. (Courtesy of Flickr/Mattmc89)
Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Ben Harper and other musicians are protesting a line in the new energy bill that provides subsidies for construction of new nuclear power plants. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Bonnie Raitt about how the antinuclear movement’s changed, but the music’s message is the same.
GELLERMAN: Singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt has been playing her distinctive blend of bluesy-rock and soulful lyrics since the 1960s. She’s recorded 18 albums and won nine Grammys.
CURWOOD: Raitt is not only a musical institution. She’s also a social activist. In 1979 she played Madison Square Garden with Graham Nash and Jackson Browne at an anti-nuke concert soon after the Three Mile Island meltdown.
[MUSIC: “Runaway” from 1979 No Nukes Concert at Madison Square Garden (YouTube)]
GELLERMAN: Now, nearly three decades later, Bonnie Raitt, Browne, and Nash are at it again, joining forces and voices against nuclear power. They have a new video on YouTube called “Stop the Nuclear Bail Out,” adding new lyrics to the song “For What It’s Worth.”
Bonnie Raitt says it’s a protest against a single sentence in the new energy bill that would provide tens of billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, which hopes to build new power plants.
RAITT: Yeah, this is an industry that has not been able to get insurance. And it’s been subsidized by the American people all this time. And basically the way that this is written—we’re trying to get this amendment out of the current, otherwise-great energy bill, which has wonderful renewable standards and all kinds of things that a coalition within the government have worked really hard to put forth. This language deserves to come out because it basically is a blank check to the nuclear industry that will then go to Wall Street and get investment and be off and running building new plants and, for which we have no solution to the storage and the safety and the transport. On every level, it’s going to be just not worth it to go to the nuclear option.
Bonnie Raitt is a nine-time Grammy winner.
GELLERMAN: Why did you choose the song “For What It’s Worth?”
RAITT: Well I’ve been doing that in my concerts and especially in rallies and political—I think it’s a wonderful song by the Buffalo Springfield. I’ve been singing it since my teen years and Jackson suggested it and we have Ben Harper and Keb Mo and Graham Nash on the video and it’s just a song that was easily recognizable and we could amend the lyrics and use it as a base on our YouTube video that’s out now and let people know about this information about safe energy and nuclear power.
GELLERMAN: There’s a rebuttal to your video on YouTube. It’s with Elizabeth King, who’s with the Nuclear Energy Institute. I want you to listen to a little clip that I took out of that:
KING: Today’s reality is that nuclear energy supplies more than 70 percent of our electricity production that does not emit greenhouse gases. To fight global warming, and meet our electricity needs, we need to invest in all kinds of power plants, including nuclear and renewables. So, for what it’s worth, I support clean and safe nuclear energy for me, and for future generations. Maybe you should, too.
GELLERMAN: Well she’s saying that you know, nuclear power is a non-greenhouse-gas producing form of electricity.
RAITT: Do you want to trade poisonous, radioactive emissions and waste in exchange for what they say is a lower CO2 emission? I mean it’s just, the cost and the expense and the risk and the problems of nuclear power have not been solved and in our opinion, it’s not clean energy. And I just don’t agree with her premise.
GELLERMAN: And you think music as a form of protest still works today? And does it work in the medium of online today? I mean you can sit there with your laptop listening to and watching your video. It’s different than you know taking to the ramparts and protesting and getting arrested on the streets.
RAITT: Well I think the great news about the Internet is that you can see democracy at work. I mean it started with Governor Dean’s campaign and MoveOn and groups like that where we started to be able to educate people and circulate petitions and get people to call their congresspeople and be—participate in the democratic process again on almost every level, on the right and the left. It’s a revolution that’s changed the political landscape for activism.
In terms of music, you know—we know that people love to hear our music. Hopefully they love to hear our music, but the reason we speak out is because we’re citizens. You know, we’re musicians second and citizens first. And we may use our music to be able to garner attention and get the microphone so that people will listen to the side of the argument that maybe isn’t being funded by the huge corporations that are able to buy op-eds in the newspapers and put people into congressional seats. We’re standing up for the folks that don’t have that kind of big money.
GELLERMAN: Am I going to sound like an old fogie if I say goodbye to you and say ‘rock on,’ Ms. Raitt?
RAITT: Oh no! Are you kidding? I’m rocking on, you know. I’m hoping I’ll be rocking on when I’m 80 and let’s hope I don’t have to be talking about nuclear power then.
GELLERMAN: Well Ms. Raitt, thank you very much.
RAITT: Thank you very much, Bruce. Living on Earth!
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