A visit to Hole in the Head

A Hole in the Head is not quite what most people would think; it is actually an exhibit that has a unique insight into the battle of stopping a nuclear reactor being built on Bodega Head. The Hole in the Head exhibit is now on display at the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa. The exhibit portrays the story of how the Pacific Gas and Electric Company tried to build a nuclear power plant in Sonoma County at Bodega Head, a small headland near Bodega Bay, beginning in 1958. But the utility had to cancel construction after local environmentalists protested its construction and the dangers the nuclear power plant could bring. 

If the nuclear power plant was built, it could possibly have had to endure strong earthquakes due it being located near the San Andres fault zone. Another safety issue would be radiation contaminating grass, which could affect the dairy cows in the area and could contaminate the milk.

The exhibit contains many photos of significant figures that were either opposed to the nuclear power plan or for it. Each photo has some background information of the individual in the image and there is also a seismograph on display. 

The exhibit takes visitors through the history of when the nuclear power plant was proposed until when the project was cancelled. It even shows some of the sea life still in Bodega’s environment, such as different types of birds and crabs. The exhibit displays old records musicians produced to further the opposition of the nuclear power plant. 

The exhibit recognized the heroes that stopped the nuclear plant being built, like Bill Kortum and Pierre Saint Amand. Saint Amand was a geologist who made more citizens oppose the nuclear power plant because he went to the site and came up with a shocking analysis. Saint Amand told the public “a worse foundation would be difficult to envision.”

Kortum was the researcher who discovered grass contamination could not only be a safety hazard for the cows, but also could harm the people who drank their milk and the farmers who owned these cows. The farmers were so grateful, they contributed to the organization that led the opposition, the Association to Preserve Bodega Head and Harbor. The Association to Preserve Bodega Head and Harbor was one of the first well-organized groups that informed people of the possible nuclear power plant. The organizations not only told the public about how the planet could greatly affect people’s safety, but also handed out leaflets and went door to door. This group looked at how this nuclear power plant could affect society as a whole, not just Bodega Head. 

“It was the beginning of the environmentalist movement” said Cheryl Engle, an employee of the museum. 

The exhibit takes individuals on a journey of the protesters who fought to keep Bodega Head and people all over the area safe. While several tactics were undergone to establish the opposition of the nuclear power plant, one of the most reliable, resourceful tactics was the launch of 1,500 helium balloons that spread to all over California, such as the East Bay and other locations. 

The whole idea behind this tactic was to let people know how easy radiation can spread.  Connected to the balloons were tags explaining to people that the balloon could represent a harmful molecule, such as, strontium 90 or Iodine 131. The balloon tag informed the individual who found the balloon that Pacific Gas and Electric Company had planned on not only building a nuclear power plant on Bodega Head, but it would be near a very dangerous and active earthquake fault. 

 Another statement on the tag was to tell local newspapers where one found this balloon. The whole concept of the balloon is being a representation credited to Pat Watters and his wife Lu Watters.

The way this site received its nickname “Hole in the Head” was because of the enormous hole that was dug during site preparation by PG&E. The hole was 100 feet deep and 140 feet in width. There was roughly 600,000 cubic yards of dirt that was taken out of the ground but the dirt was not wasted due to it being used for construction for a road to the work site. 

The museum is filled with information about how the nuclear power plant planned for Bodega Head was defeated. The exhibit also offers a sculpture garden, upstairs gallery and gift shop. Many more exhibits will come and go in the museum, but the Hole in the Head, which will be on display until Feb. 9, offers a snapshot of Sonoma County’s transition from only looking at just Bodega Head for it beauty, to caring about people and the creatures that inhabit Bodega Bay safety.