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‘Fierce little old lady’ who opposed nuclear expansion dies at 99 via The State


Ruth Sackett Thomas, a teacher turned-environmentalist who for decades was one of South Carolina’s most ardent anti-nuclear activists, died over the weekend after a brief illness.

She was 99. 

Known for making state leaders uncomfortable with questions about nuclear policy, Thomas spent nearly 50 years advocating environmental causes and fighting the expansion of atomic plants across South Carolina.

In 1972, after reading a story about a proposed nuclear reprocessing plant near Barnwell, Thomas founded Environmentalists Inc. to oppose the facility, which President Jimmy Carter later canceled because of concerns about the potential hazards. The group’s efforts put the spotlight on a rural, little publicized part of South Carolina that she said faced dangers from the reprocessing effort.


Thomas collected so many documents about the environment and nuclear issues, many obtained through public records requests, that she ran out of room to keep them in her house off of Beltline Boulevard in Columbia. Thomas donated thousands of those records, mostly covering the years 1971-1989, to a repository at the University of South Carolina in 1994. Thomas later donated more documents, a family member said. 

Even after moving from Columbia to an assisted living home near Tryon, N.C., about 10 years ago, Thomas continued to speak out against nuclear energy and radioactive waste disposal practices, regularly calling reporters and younger activists to offer her viewpoints, while rallying some of her newfound friends in North Carolina to support environmental protection.

Her efforts in North Carolina were featured in a local newspaper, The Tryon Daily Bulletin. 

In 2015, at the age of 95, Thomas called The State newspaper to say she was working against the shipment of weapons grade plutonium across the country. The plutonium had at one point been destined for Aiken’s Savannah River Site. As recently as last month, Thomas was drafting a letter to government officials in Ohio to express concern about nuclear contamination at a site that is being demolished there, a friend said.


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