I Still Love the Nevada Test Site!

by Karen Topakian

Peg and I are often asked how we met. We always say at Greenpeace. Which is true. But Peg was my hero before I ever met her. Or knew her name.

Here’s why.

In early April 1986, while driving my old gray Volvo to the San Francisco Art Institute where I was a graduate student, I was listening to the radio.

KALW was broadcasting a BBC report that members of Greenpeace had hiked through the desert at the Nevada Test Site and stopped the Mighty Oak underground nuclear weapon test by occupying ground zero.

Mighty Oak was not just your run of the mill nuclear weapons test. It was a test of defiance.  A global slap in the face.

President Gorbachev had recently announced a unilateral moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. He challenged President Reagan to join him in signing a treaty banning nuclear tests. Reagan responded by scheduling Mighty Oak.

Once the US government announced the schedule of the test, the anti-nuclear movement moved into high gear to stop it anyway it could. By lobbying. By protesting. Greenpeace chose to stop it, literally, by occupying the site.

Instantly, I wanted out of my car and art school and back into anti-nuke activism.  (An avocation I had left behind in RI to pursue a career as a fine arts filmmaker.)

I wanted to be one of those people. I wanted to hike through a hot dusty desert to stop one of the most egregious acts committed by our government – the design, production, and testing of nuclear weapons.

All day long, I thought about the audacity of the US and the bravery and courage of the Greenpeace members.  Their ability to stop the test, if only for a matter of hours, fueled my adrenaline.

Art school be damned. I wanted back into the world of activism.

Fast-forward 11 months to March 1987. Where my wish came true. Greenpeace hired me as a nuclear disarmament campaigner to work on the Nuclear Free Seas campaign. (Two months before I received my MFA.)

While at Greenpeace, I met and fell in love with Peg Stevenson.

One day in passing, she mentioned that she was one of the people. One of the people who had hiked through the Nevada Test Site desert in April 1986. To occupy ground zero. Peg Stevenson and her colleagues had stopped an underground nuclear weapon test.

Not only had I scored a dream job. But my girlfriend had been my hero before I even met her.

P.S. If you’re interested in reading about Greenpeace’s occupation of ground zero, check out Mike Roselle’s book, Tree Spiker. The book starts with this action.



  1. Kris Cameron says:

    What a moving and loving tribute to Peg. You guys are incredible.

  2. While a nice article I don’t know where you get that October 14 is the 53rd birthday of the site. Since the first test was done there in January of 1951 that would make the site 60 years old.

  3. Awesome story! Didn’t know about that Reagan era postscript (?) to the NTS story.

    Here is a song that I perform in about the NTS. Enjoy, thanks

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