The Famous Silkwood case centered on Karen Silkwood, an employee of the Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corporation who died in 1975. A chemical technician and union activist, Silkwood died when her car was run off the road while on her way to meet with a New York Times reporter. She had told the reporter she would bring evidence of irregularities and safety violations at the plutonium fuel rods plant where she worked. In 1977, Daniel Sheehan was approached by leaders of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Among them was Sara Nelson, NOW’s Labor Committee Chair, who was spearheading a campaign and a broad coalition of progressive groups seeking to bring attention to the death of Karen Silkwood.
Davis, Sheehan and Nelson formed an immediate bond. In concert with their allies they filed a lawsuit on behalf of Silkwood’s children. They organized a massive public education and organizing campaign to put a spotlight on the case. They won a record-setting judgment that established new precedent in liability law and effectively ended construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States. The Institute proved in court that Kerr-McGee was responsible for Silkwood’s contamination by radioactive plutonium, and forced the corporation to pay more than $1.3 million to her children. The Institute’s case files served as the raw material for the movie Silkwood, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep and Cher.
Silkwood Lectures from the Trajectory of Justice 2012 UCSC Class:
- Introduction by Sara Nelson
- Introduction By Daniel Sheehan
- The Trial
- End of the Trial & 3 Mile Island