Judge snubs expert at Pilgrim trial

Helen CaldicottBy Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times, October 18, 2014

A Plymouth District Court judge barred an internationally known expert on the medical and environmental dangers of nuclear power from testifying Friday on behalf of four Cape Cod activists charged with trespassing onto the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s property on Mother’s Day.

Dr. Helen Caldicott had traveled from Australia to serve as the principal expert witness at the trial of the alleged trespassers, who argue that their actions of civil disobedience were performed for a greater good.

Defendants Diane Turco of Harwich, Sarah Thacher of East Dennis, Mary Conathan of Chatham and Susan Carpenter of South Dennis are using the “necessity” defense, which requires their attorney to prove there was an immediate danger and the action of trespassing was effective in addressing and abating the danger.

The four women, who range in age from 60 to 80 and call themselves “The Grandmothers,” say they went onto the Pilgrim property to plant flowers. Their action came at the end of a Mother’s Day rally intended to raise awareness of the dangers they say the plant poses to the public.

Instead of allowing Caldicott to testify Friday, Judge James Sullivan ordered her to undergo preliminary questioning so he could determine what direction her testimony would take.

The doctor told the court that while she has spoken and written on the dangers of nuclear power in general, she spent 20 years in the Boston area and has specific familiarity with the Plymouth nuclear plant.

“I’ve been concerned about Pilgrim for many years and have given lectures on this plant many times,” she said. “This is an acute emergency. People on the Cape are at a severe risk.”

Plymouth County Assistant District Attorney Amanda Fowle argued that Caldicott and future witnesses for the defense would show “potential hypothetical harm” rather than actual imminent harm.

Sullivan agreed. “She’s telling the court what could happen and what the potential risks are,” the judge said. “The necessity defense can’t be based on speculative information. I have no choice but to preclude her testimony.”

The judge told defense attorney Bruce Taub he may allow Caldicott to testify Wednesday “if you bring in other witnesses that make her testimony relative.” He suggested nuclear engineers as possible expert witnesses, but then told Taub he could not add any witnesses to the existing list.

Taub intends to have state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, kick off Monday’s testimony, followed by Dr. Richard Clapp, founding director of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry, and political scientist Joseph Gerson, who will testify on acts of civil disobedience to prompt social change.

Caldicott said later she was “very annoyed” at the judge’s ruling. —He knew I’m an expert on childhood diseases and I could talk about that,” said the doctor, who has been an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a staff member at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston.

“I don’t think the law should be deciding the medical dangers of the nuclear plant,” she said. “We who know medicine should be deciding.

“International studies show children living within 2 miles of a plant have double the incidence of leukemia, and that’s almost certainly happening here,” she said.

One of the alleged trespassers, Thacher, did testify Friday. The 80-year-old great-grandmother called the plant “an insult to our humanity and to our children.”

Fowle asked Thacher why she went onto the Entergy-owned Pilgrim property. “I hoped to bring attention to it and get people as mad as hell about this unfeeling continuation of the poisoning of our atmosphere,” Thacher answered. “My effort is for all the children in the world. They’re all getting hammered.”

During opening statements, Fowle said the prosecution had not been given adequate notice of the witnesses the defense would present.

She said Taub had not provided the list and the background material on the witnesses until Wednesday.

Taub apologized and said it was not intentional.

“This is a significant case,” Sullivan warned. “The defendants are facing incarceration. It’s important we do this the right way.”

Turco, who founded the anti-Pilgrim group Cape Downwinders and who is the only defendant representing herself, agreed with the judge.

“It is serious, but it’s serious because it’s about public health and safety,” Turco said. “Jail time is secondary.”

2 thoughts on “Judge snubs expert at Pilgrim trial”

  1. Many thanks for the report. In Britain a new nuclear power station is to be built, there seems to be a news embargo on anything nuclear in this country. I was angry to read of the treatment of Helen Caldicott. All the best to you, yours aye john Morris

  2. The judge is excruciatingly ignorant. Dr Caldicott is the foremost educated professional in her field and is knowledgable about the risks of the plants. It is not “speculation”, but understanding that makes her worth listening to. Shame on the judge.

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