On September 30, the plug got pulled on Project ELF. A surprise Navy announcement signaled the end of 36 years of first local, then global, opposition to the Navy's giant transmitter system. The system was built to send one-way messages to submerged British and U.S. submarines around the world, allowing Trident ballistic missile submarines to get close enough to the USSR to launch a sneak attack or first-strike with nuclear weapons.

Calling the twin ELF transmitters (one in Clam Lake, Wisconsin and another in Republic, Michigan) "outdated and no longer needed," the Space and Navy Warfare Systems Command in San Diego said on September 17 that it will cease operating the devices and over the next three years disassemble over 100 miles of above-ground heavy cables and cedar poles that carry the extremely low frequency signal into the earth's crust.

Anti-nuclear weapons activists celebrated the unexpected end of a 36-year long campaign against what they dubbed a "nuclear war trigger." The struggle involved state-wide referendums, federal law suits, marches, pole-cutting disarmament actions, and a 18-year-long campaign of line-crossing civil resistance. Over 40 of the nuclear weapons resisters who refused to pay court-ordered fines have been incarcerated in county jails and state and federal prisons. Altogether, more than nine years of incarceration have been served by the activists.

The dead-end of constitutional protest methods - including a successful state-wide anti-ELF referendum in Michigan, the repeated introduction in Congress of the "ELF Termination Act," and a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversal - led to the campaign of civil resistance. Five times since 1984, antenna poles have been cut down by activists who temporarily shut off the system. In 1996, two pole cutters won a jury acquittal on state sabotage charges after expert testimony showed that the Trident system was unable to act defensively, but is only useful as a first-strike or offensive nuclear war machine. Since 1991, 636 trespass citations have been issued to activists who converged on the site 58 times in 13 years.

"We did it," said John LaForge of Nukewatch, which has helped coordinate the Coalition to Stop Project ELF. "This is another victory for nonviolence, because everybody who has confronted this nuclear war system has been made stronger by the experience," LaForge said. "No attention was ever paid to ELF unless we were out there putting ourselves in legal jeopardy. After so many years of actions, trials, and jail-going, cynics said to us, 'You've failed.' But we hadn't lost, because we never gave up."

Bonnie Urfer, co-director of Nukewatch said, "I feel relief for the people of the area and the local environment, knowing that ELF's million-point-three watts of electricity will no longer be jolted into the ground, shocking the aquatic life and increasing the threat of leukemia and other cancers."

Nukewatch said the Navy's closure announcement, while welcome, raises more questions than it answers. The Navy said " improved technologies" and "changing requirements of today's Navy" made ELF obsolete. However, "very-low-frequency (ELF) alternatives to ELF have been around for 30 years and the 'changing requirements' refer to the end of the cold war that happened 14 years ago," LaForge said.

Urfer, who served 6 months in jail in 1995 for refusing to pay fines, and later spent two years in federal custody for cutting down three ELF poles, also announced that, "We (the Coalition to Stop Project ELF) will gather at the site September 30, all day, to confirm the shutdown and to celebrate, and if they don't shut if off we'll cross the line to continue the resistance."

John Heid, of Anathoth Community Farm near Luck, Wisconsin, who along with LaForge served 60 days in Ashland County jail in 2001, said of the announcement, "Today ELF, tomorrow Trident."

Jane Hosking, also at Anathoth, and who was jailed for 60 days in 1998, commented that, "We still have a few issues to work out with U.S. nuclear weapons policy -- like disarmament and clean-up."

The U.S. still deploys 14 Tridents, the deadliest and most expensive weapons system in human history. The $155 billion Trident fleet carries over 2,880 intercontinen-tal ballistic missile warheads, some of which -- the 475 kiloton D-5s -- are 38 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

Twenty trespass defendants still await trial for actions at the site on Mother's Day, May 16, and August 8 (see story).

For more information, contact Nukewatch, POB 649 Luck, WI 54853, (715)472-4185, email: web:

(Thanks to Nukewatch for this account.)

The Nuclear Resister
October 2004