Inola Town Location
OK Territory, 1892
Actor Wes Studi (left) shown leading the protesters towards the construction site of the Black Fox Nuclear Plant
* Photo courtesy of The Tulsa World
Inola Town Location
OK Territory, 1892
Black Fox Timeline
May 1973: PSO announces plan to build a $450 million nuclear power plant near Inola, 30 miles east of Tulsa.
1976: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission begins a series of public hearings that are originally scheduled to last less than a week. But protesters and legal challenges result in repeated delays and extensions until the hearings finally conclude 18 months later.
Summer 1978: First construction permits are granted.
March 28, 1979: A partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania leads to a temporary nationwide moratorium on construction of similar facilities.
June 2, 1979: Hundreds of protesters attempt to occupy the site to prevent further construction.
Late 1980: PSO asks the Corporation Commission for a rate increase to finance the rising cost of construction, now estimated at $2.4 billion.
1981: The Corporation Commission conducts a series of hearings before deciding that the project is no longer financially viable.
Feb. 16, 1982: PSO cancels the project.
March 2017: The Town of Inola votes to rezone the north 1200 acres of the Black Fox property to be I-4 Industrial with the new name of Inola River / Rail Industrial Park.
April 2018: Local and State officials came together for a ground breaking ceremony for a new Sofidel paper plant within the Inola River / Rail Industrial Park and will to employ over 300 people.
Protests of Black Fox
History of the fight against building a nuclear plant at Inola
The Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant was proposed by the Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) in May 1973. The facility was to be built approximately 3 miles southwest of downtown Inola, Oklahoma, but still within town limits, and was to consist of two 1,150 MWe General Electric (GE) Boiling Water Reactors.
In the spring of 1973, with great fanfare, Public Service Company announced it was building two nuclear power reactors in southern Rogers County, a stone's throw from Inola. At a site PSO named Black Fox (Inola is the Cherokee word for Black Fox), nuclear power plants would harness the atom to provide unlimited power, bringing unbridled economic growth.
U.S. Senator Henry Bellmon was in the limelight. The Billings, Oklahoma, farmer donned a hard hat and started up the first of 12 giant earth moving machines and took his own brief tour.
It would be cheap and perfectly safe, the power company promised. PSO promised thousands of construction jobs and that with an influx of new tax money, Inola would be able to build the grandest school in all of Oklahoma. One local man was quoted at the time saying "Far as I know, all the people in Inola have welcomed it. 'Cause this county right here'll be one of the richest school districts in the state,". However, not everyone in the area believed that way.
Carrie Dickerson, or Aunt Carrie as she was known by her many supporters and friends, read a news article about Public Service of Oklahoma's plans to build the Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant. The new plant was just supposed to be a few miles from the Dickerson family farm.
Recalling reports she had read earlier of wildlife birth defects coincident with effluent from the WWII Manhattan Project, she researched the current efforts to build nuclear power facilities. What she learned frightened and concerned her so much that despite her lack of political and publicity experience, she held a news conference at which she announced the formation of the political action group Citizens' Action for Safe Energy (CASE).
Aunt Carrie and CASE, with co-chair Ilene Younghein of Oklahoma City, began an expensive but determined battle to educate the public and stop construction of the plant. Following her lead, other anti-nuclear organizations were formed in the area, and citizens from all walks of life and ethnic groups joined in the battle.
Day of Protest - June 3, 1979
Inspired by the recent meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, where a radiation leak had occurred in March 1979, a lot of newcomers got involved in protesting the Black Fox Plant ultimately leading to civil disobedience for the first time.
Organized by the Sunbelt Alliance, a national group that had staged other large-scale protests against nuclear energy, the crowd was an eclectic mix of students from the University of Tulsa, musicians, artists, Native American activists and environmentalists from all over the country.
On the morning of June 2, 1979, the protesters carried their backpacks and tents and acoustic guitars and climbed over a barbed-wire fence to enter a construction site near Inola, 27 miles east of downtown Tulsa, where the Public Service Company of Oklahoma was building a nuclear power plant. They planned to spend the whole day there and camp overnight to disrupt construction work.
But sheriff’s deputies were waiting and quickly arrested all of them, along with several journalists who had come along to cover the demonstrators.
It turned out to be a very short “occupation.” But the Black Fox nuclear project made international headlines that day.
Nonetheless, the power plant’s most outspoken and best-known opponent made a point of staying away.
‘Tough and determined’
Carrie Dickerson, who had been a teacher in Inola and owned a farm three miles from the reactor site, wanted nothing to do with civil disobedience or anything illegal. Maybe it was a matter of principle. Or maybe it was strategy.
“She didn’t want to do anything that might damage the case that she was trying to build in court,” says Marilyn McCulloch, a friend who now leads the Carrie Dickerson Foundation to carry on the activist’s mission. Dickerson died in 2006.
“She didn’t want anybody to be able to say, ‘Oh, look, she broke the law and now she has lost all credibility.’”
In her 50s during most of the “War Against Black Fox,” Dickerson let everybody call her “Aunt Carrie,” and she was described even by her enemies in the nuclear industry as gentle, soft-spoken and “motherly.”
“But she was tough,” McCulloch says. “She was determined. And she was not going to accept defeat. Never.”
Financing the effort by mortgaging her property and selling quilts, Dickerson devised a simple strategy: delay, delay, delay. If they were forced to endure seemingly endless postponements, Dickerson thought PSO officials would give up before she would.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission planned a week of public hearings in 1976. But Dickerson flooded the proceedings with so many witnesses, documents, requests for information and legal challenges that the hearings stretched on for 18 months.
By 1980, seven years after PSO had announced plans to build Black Fox, construction estimates had skyrocketed from $450 million to $2.4 billion. And the company asked the Corporation Commission for a rate hike to finance the project, triggering another round of public hearings in 1981.
This time, the commission concluded that Black Fox was no longer financially viable. And on Feb. 16, 1982, exactly 35 years ago Thursday, PSO canceled the project.
‘A tremendous debt’
Not everybody celebrated.
“We had some pretty big ideas about spending all that money,” says Buck Mullen, who served on the Inola Board of Education during the Black Fox controversy. The power plant would have contributed millions of dollars in tax revenues for schools, he says.
“We would have been one of the richest — if not the richest — school district in the state. It was going to be huge.”
Dickerson and other protesters raised the specter of radiation leaks and contaminated water getting into the Verdigris River. But most people in Inola considered the risk to be minuscule compared to the potential economic benefits, Mullen says.
One of Dickerson’s staunchest supporters, Claremore’s Stratton Taylor, launched his political career with a successful run for the state House of Representatives in 1979, when he was only 23 years old. Taylor went on to win a seat in the state Senate, where he served eight years as president pro tem.
Dickerson killed Black Fox, Taylor says, by not focusing exclusively on environmental concerns but also attacking the most common argument for nuclear power — that it would provide “cheap energy.”
“It was going to cost a lot of money to build, and those costs were going to be passed on to the ratepayers,” he says. “She saved the state of Oklahoma hundreds of millions of dollars, and we owe her a tremendous debt.”
PSO continues to own the property where Black Fox nuclear facility was once planned. While the dream of having nuclear power in the Inola area has long since passed, PSO remained focused on utilizing the property effectively for economic development and of course increased electrical usage. This property continues as part of Inola city limits as it has since the original proposal for Black Fox.
In March 2017, the Inola City Council voted to rezone almost 1200 acres of the north portion of the property as I-4 Heavy Industrial zoning. This newly zoned area has been redesignated by PSO as the Inola River / Rail Industrial Park with a focused effort to bring in large manufacturing or warehousing businesses that can take advantage of the availability of highway, rail, and river access and employ large numbers of people.
In April 2018, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Sofidel paper manufacturing plant. This marks the first business moving into the new Inola River / Rail Industrial Park. The Sofidel plant will be on almost 300 acres with 50 acres under roof. They will be utilizing both road and rail access once operational and will employ at least 300 employees. As part of this effort, Oklahoma State DOT in cooperation with Rogers County are working to rebuild 4200 Road from Hwy 412 down to the industrial park entrance. Also, the Town of Inola will be building a dedicated wastewater treatment facility near the Sofidel location and on property donated by PSO.
In January 2019, Sofidel began conducting job fairs to hire for the first of these new employees. These employees will cross train at the smaller Tulsa Sofidel location until the first equipment comes online at the Inola plant in mid-2019.