Environment: The San Jose Three

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As middle-management engineers in General Electric's nuclear energy division, Gregory Minor, 38, Richard Hubbard, 38, and Dale Bridenbaugh, 44, have spent most of their professional lives working to build and promote nuclear power plants. Last week they suddenly quit their well-paid jobs at GE's installation at San Jose, Calif. Calling in the press, they announced plans to work full time for a referendum on the ballot in the California June primary that would curb the construction of new nuclear power reactors in the state. Said Minor in his letter of resignation: "Nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons now present a serious danger to the future of all life on this planet."

The trio's defection seemed a major victory for the antinuke forces in the great nuclear debate (TIME, Dec. 8). Still, while no one doubted that the men were sincere, their timing left many questions unanswered.

All three men are experts in their fields. Hubbard designed control rooms for atomic plants and worked with Government regulators. Minor was responsible for the design of many nuclear plant-safety and control systems. Bridenbaugh headed an industry group that reviewed radiation-containment safety devices. Yet, though the engineers claim to have told their superiors about their doubts, a GE spokesman insisted they had never mentioned to management "any broad concern about their work or about nuclear power."

Inadequate Systems. Furthermore, in their press conference, the trio presented no new arguments to account for their sudden switch. Minor said that he had been influenced by the serious fire last March in the nuclear power plant at Brown's Ferry, Ala.; the accident convinced him that certain safety systems were inadequate. "I was shaken," he said. "I thought we had built in overkill." Like Hubbard and Briden baugh, he was also upset by U.S. plans to sell nuclear reactors to Israel, Egypt and South Africa, and with India's detonation of an atomic bomb.

In fact, some scientists suggest that the timing of last week's resignations may have been politically inspired. All three of the engineers are members of the Creative Initiative Foundation, a California-based organization that seeks to strengthen human relationships and instill in its members a reverence for life; C.I.F. members are described by one who dropped out as having "a fervor about changing the world for the better." Bridenbaugh admitted that he and the others might have been "sensitized" to hazards of nuclear plants during C.I.F. classes and group discussions.

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