On November 13, 1974, Karen Silkwood was on her way to meet a New York Times reporter when her car was run off the road. Silkwood was a safety inspector and activist with the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union. She had told the reporter she had evidence of safety violations at the plutonium fuel rods plant where she worked near Crescent, Oklahoma.
Soon afterward, nationwide demands were made for an investigation into her death. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of her children, and a broad coalition of organizations undertook a public education and organizing campaign to publicize the lawsuit. When the jury in Silkwood v. Kerr McGee returned from their deliberations, they awarded a record-setting $10.5 million judgement to Silkwood’s estate. The case established new precedent in liability law, effectively ending construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States.
The architects of the case were unlikely allies. They included leaders from the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Jesuit Office of Social Ministries, the Environmental Policy Institute, the Quixote Center, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Fund for Constitutional Government, the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, and the Anti-Nuclear Movement. After the verdict, several of these allies regrouped in Washington, D.C. and founded the Christic Institute.