Obituary For Dr. Judith H. Johnsrud

July 1, 1931 – March 9, 2014

Judith H. Johnsrud of State College, PA, a highly-respected hero to opponents of nuclear energy in the United States and around the world, was born July 1, 1931, and grew up in Hammond, Indiana. As a teenager Judy, as she was known to her friends, was very interested in social justice – a concern that would permeate her life and set the course for her life’s work as an anti-nuclear activist and expert.

A former “professor” of geography, she sacrificed her own academic advancement, health, and financial well-being to write, speak and testify about the dangers of radiation. Considered by many to have been one of the best informed nuclear opponent in the U.S., Judy called for increasing radiation protection standards, the control of radioactive waste and an end to nuclear electric generation.

Her many decades of activism included work on the geography of nuclear power and its entire system of production, utilization, and waste isolation; radiation impacts on humans and the environment; and the problems of sequestration of “high-level,” “low level,” and recycled radioactive wastes.

Beginning with her first anti-nuclear involvement in 1967, successfully fighting against Project Ketch (an Atomic Energy Commission proposal to explode 1,000 atomic bombs underground in northern Pennsylvania to create containments for natural gas — and the first time in U.S. history that a citizens’ coalition successfully halted such a federal project) to her creation of the Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Power in 1970 and that group’s original intervention against the siting and licensing of Three Mile Island, to her active involvement in a multitude of projects over the decades, the breadth of Judy’s contributions is truly astounding.

In what is a very partial list of “citizen nuclear successes” in Pennsylvania alone, Judy was a key player in the defeat of the Project Ketch Plowshare Project; the Meshoppen Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor; the Newbold Island reactor; Fulton 1 & 2 reactors; and the Energy Park proposal (10 candidate sites: 20,000 megawatts, 10 coal plants and 10 nuclear reactors); the decommissioning of the Quehanna, Waltz Mill, and Saxton Experimental reactors; the halt of the Quakertown Hatfield food irradiator and the Park Township plutonium fuel fabrication and radwaste incinerator; and the closure of the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority incinerator ash lagoon. She was also instrumental in championing legislation, both in Pennsylvania and nationally, concerning the storage and measurement standards for nuclear waste products, testifying regularly before congressional committees. Judy was very modest and humble and so few people knew of her accomplishments.

Judy devoted her life to fighting for the end of the era of nuclear power, worried deeply about the future of our species in an ever-thickening of the radiation environment. As an expert on the biological and health effects of radiation exposure, she traveled twice to Chernobyl’s damaged Unit 4 complex and witnessed first-hand the wide range of health problems — not just the cancers and leukemia — affecting the region’s residents, especially the children, and did all she could to expose the lie of a “safe” level of radiation exposure.

An excellent speaker and educator, she spoke to groups large and small throughout the United States, as well as abroad, about the problems of radiation in general and, more specifically, of nuclear power, food irradiation, nuclear waste, and related subjects. If an individual or group wanted her to speak, Judy was there, frequently at her own expense. In addition to testifying before the U.S. Congress, she was also a guest speaker for parliamentary bodies and symposia in Europe, Japan, the former Soviet Union, Sweden, and other countries throughout the world.

Judy fought not just against the releases of radioactive materials into our environment from nuclear power plants and incinerators, but also against their being recycling into products – from children’s toys to coins in our pockets to larger items to be found around us every day that constantly expose us to multiple sources, additive and cumulative radiation doses, with unknown, possibly synergistic, effects.

Among her many positions, Judy was chairperson and board member for the National Solar Lobby in Washington D.C.; an active member of the New England Coalition against Nuclear Pollution; a member of both the Sierra Club state board and Sierra Club National Nuclear Waste Task Force and their Radiation Committee; as well as former chairperson of the board of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C., a national organization for which she wrote the original proposal and grant. In 2007 she helped found another national/international organization, Beyond Nuclear, and served on its board of directors. She was project director and board member of the organization Radiation and Public Health, and aided in the startup and as a board member of Food and Water, an organization fighting food irradiation. Further, Judy was a member of the Pennsylvania’s Low-Level Radioactive Waste Advisory Board from its inception in the 1980s until 2011. Nationally she was on the United States Department of Energy’s Advisory Committee for the Low-Level Radiation Research Program and on the Radiation Advisory Board of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, among other federal level appointments.

Over the years, Judy’s work received recognition from numerous organizations, including the national Giraffe Project’s 1987 award for “Sticking her neck out” in writing about the inherent dangers of food irradiation. In May, 2012 honoring her nearly 50 years of successful nuclear opposition, the National Sierra Club’s “No Nukes Activist Team,” stated, as part of the award ceremony: “…Judy was an important member of our PA Chapter’s volunteer leadership, right up till her retirement in 2009…She inspired many people, inside Sierra Club and beyond, to work to halt the dangerous release of radionuclides into the environment. Without a doubt, Judy has been the most important anti-nuclear advocate in Pennsylvania’s history.”

Born Judith Ann Hays, she was the daughter of Ernest Leroy and Gladys Settle Hays, she felt a certain kinship with people with the Hays surname, including former State College mayor Jo Hays. She attended Wittenberg College, graduating with a B.A. from Northwestern University, receiving her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her doctorate from the Pennsylvania State University, all in geography. She advised or taught at the University of Wisconsin, Wayne State University, the State Teacher’s College at Oswego, New York, Pennsylvania State University, and Bucknell University.

She was a lover of cats; discoverer of back roads and alternate routes; heavy appreciator of Bach, Faure, Mozart, and Judy Collins; semi-secret devotee of an erudite murder mystery; book collector, dangerous Scrabble player and secret fan of small-town Indiana basketball. She was a friend to her colleagues, a deeply loving grandmother, and a devoted sister.

She was predeceased by her father in 1935, her mother in 1972, and her husband, Robert Oliver, in 1960. Her brother, Robert F. Hays, died in 2000. Judy had been his full-time caregiver for the months preceding his death. She was also predeceased by her great friends Gladys and Wilbur Zelinsky.

She is survived by her partner and companion of some 45 years, Dr. Leon Glicenstein of State College, PA; by her son and daughter-in-law, Robert Johnsrud and Jenny Ross, of Ithaca, N.Y. her grandsons Benjamin, Drew and Theodore; dear friends Karen and Hollis Zelinsky, and her cat, Kat. She died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family who deeply loved her.

A Memorial Celebration of Judy’s life will be held sometime, as yet unknown, in the spring. Should you want to be notified about it please contact Leon Glicenstein [glicenstein33@msn.com] or Robert E. Johnsrud [robbej@gmail.com].