Medical expert testifies in trial of Pilgrim nuke plant activists

DownwindersBy Christine Leger, Cape Cod Times, October 23, 2014

It’s not safe to live on Cape Cod, according to an internationally known expert on the medical and environmental dangers of nuclear power.

During the final day of the trespassing trial of four anti-nuclear activists from the Cape, Dr. Helen Caldicott testified that it isn’t simply the potential for a major nuclear meltdown at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station that should have people worried. Cancer-causing chemicals are constantly escaping from the reactor into the air and water, she said.

“If I had young children, I would not live on the Cape,” said Caldicott, a doctor who taught pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and was on staff at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston. “And if I was a pediatrician here, I would advise parents to leave. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

On trial were Diane Turco of Harwich, Sarah Thacher of East Dennis, Mary Conathan of Chatham and Susan Carpenter of South Dennis, who trespassed onto the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station property in May following a Mother’s Day rally.

The women were using the necessity defense, which requires they prove there was an immediate danger and the action of trespassing was successful in addressing and abating the danger.

Caldicott testified nuclear energy is not “clean” energy.

“Each reactor makes 30 tons of radioactive waste a year and we have no answers on how to store it,” she said.

GE Mark 1 boiling water reactors like the one in Plymouth “can’t operate without emitting tritium into the atmosphere day and night,” she said. “Tritium can be absorbed into the body through the skin and lungs and then spread. It’s a nasty material. The plant uses 500 million gallons of water per day and it goes back into the bay with tritium in it. It gets into the fish and people eat the fish.”

She also listed other chemical compounds connected with the nuclear industry such as strontium 90 and plutonium.

Caldicott called the potassium iodide pills supplied by state health officials to temporarily protect thyroids in a radioactive release as nothing more than a “placebo.”

Potassium iodide temporarily prevents the thyroid from taking in radioactive iodine.

“The pills give people a sense they are protected and they are not,” the doctor said.

Turco, who founded the citizens group Cape Downwinders and was defending herself, told Judge James Sullivan her group had worked against Pilgrim for the last three decades trying to get results by working with legislators and even the governor. Civil disobedience was a last resort, she said.

Turco said the decision to trespass was based on a tactic used by Martin Luther King, who called it “creative tension.”

“Creative tension is when the community is confronted with a problem and it is dramatized so it cannot be ignored,” Turco said.

Assistant District Attorney Amanda Fowle, who was prosecuting the trespassing case, aggressively questioned both Turco and Caldicott.

Following Turco’s explanation that she was carrying a pansy to plant on the nuclear power station property on Mother’s Day, Fowle asked with a hint of sarcasm, “When you walked onto the property holding your flower, did you have a shovel with you?”

Turco replied she planned to use her fingers.

During her closing arguments Fowle called the court proceedings “a circus” with the four defendants using the trial to create a media buzz and Caldicott to promote a book she wrote.

“This is a court of law,” Fowle said. “This has to end.”

Sullivan ultimately found the four women guilty of trespassing. While Fowle proposed 30 days in jail, with 15 to be served, Sullivan sentenced Turco, Thacher and Carpenter — all of whom had been found guilty of trespassing onto the power plant property during a trial last March — to 30 days in jail, suspended until Oct. 22, 2015. They must each pay the court $50 as well as $50 per month to the probation department for the next year.

Conathan, who was a first-time trespasser, was fined $100.

The drama was not over with the pounding of the judge’s gavel.

Turco confronted Fowle as she left the courtroom, saying the prosecutor owed Dr. Caldicott an apology for being “rude and disrespectful.”

Caldicott stood directly in front of the prosecutor but a court officer ultimately escorted Fowle through the crowd of supporters of the four women.

Originally published:

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