The Invisible Issue

Southern Women and Nuclear Opposition in the Tennessee “Nuclear” River Valley, 1974-2011


  • Aubrey Underwood


Tennessee Valley Authority, Faith Young, Jeanine Honicker, Ann Harris, anti-nuclear protest, anti-nuclear movement, nuclear whistleblower


“You are not going to build the plant there. We detest you there. We will not have your plant there,” screamed Tennessean Faith Young in response to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s 1974 announcement to build the “world’s largest nuclear plant” in Hartsville, Tennessee. [1] Throughout the late twentieth century, Southern women acted as the vanguard of the anti-nuclear movement, bringing the invisible issue of radiation into the public sphere. In bringing the public health and environmental effects of radiation to light, Southern women challenged the dominant and official narrative on nuclear safety promoted by the nuclear industry and the federal government. Helping to spread the message of the dangers of radioactivity were physician-activists equipped with epidemiological studies forecasting frightening public health and environmental effects from low-level radiation.

This case-study includes the anti-nuclear activities of Faith Young and Jeanine Honicker, two local Tennesseans who challenged the TVA’s nuclear expansion for over three decades. Also included is TVA nuclear whistleblower Ann Harris, a local from East Tennessee who contributed to the vanguard of Southern anti-nuclear voices by exposing a history of unsafe practices from inside the TVA. Harris became known as the one of the TVA’s most outspoken opponents and prevailed in six whistleblowers cases against the TVA. In some ways, their collective experiences speak to the larger “No Nukes Movement” of the late twentieth century, led primarily by women, exposing the public health and environmental dangers of nuclear radiation in the public sphere.[2] In other ways, because of the power and influence wielded by the TVA and the nuclear industries on the region, as well as the South’s political adherence to Cold War orthodoxy, Southern women anti-nuclear activities can be read as transgressing and challenging the nuclear patriarchy and Conservative political culture of the time.


[1] “N-Plant Won’t be Built, Group Tells TVA Board,” The Tennessean, February 9, 1975, 13.

[2] For more on the “No Nukes Movement” see Michael Stewart Foley, Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2013). For more on women’s activism in exposing radiation and other toxic chemicals see Natasha Zaretsky, Radiation Nation: Three Mile Island and the Political Transformation of the 1970s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018); See Samuel P. Hays, Beauty, Health and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States 1955-1985 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Anna Gyorgy, No Nukes: Everyone’s Guide to Nuclear Power.” (Boston: South End Press, 1979).