Efforts by the anti-nuclear activist group, Cape Downwinders, to shut down Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth were on display once again on Labor Day, Monday, September 1.
Nearly two dozen members gathered in front of the Christmas Tree Shops on Route 6, holding signs calling for the plant’s closure as a steady stream of traffic made its way across the Sagamore Bridge.
Cape Downwinders has become known for its protests and rallies opposing the continued operation of Pilgrim Nuclear. On Mothers Day this year, four members of the group, Diane C. Turco of Harwich, Mary B. Conathan of Chatham, and Sarah W. Thacher and Susan Carpenter. both of Dennis, were arrested during a protest at the Pilgrim Nuclear site.
“We refuse to be collateral damage, and that’s why we’re out here today,” Ms. Turco said at the rally on Monday.
She said that her group’s major concerns include the lack of an evacuation plan for Cape Cod residents in the event of a disaster at Pilgrim Nuclear, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s refusal to follow its own edict to “protect the public’s health and safety” by shutting down the plant. She noted that the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has an evacuation plan for the Cape in the event of a weather emergency (i.e., a hurricane), “but not a radiological accident at Pilgrim.”
MEMA’s evacuation plan includes a 10-mile zone surrounding the plant called the EPZ, or Emergency Planning Zone. Cape Cod is outside that 10-mile zone, and MEMA has advised people to shelter-in-place, meaning stay at home, and take potassium iodide, or KI, pills for protection against nuclear fallout. However, the pills only protect a person’s thyroid, she said. They do not protect against radioactive byproducts such as cesium, a byproduct of nuclear accidents that is still evident in the contamination from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear incident, and strontium, which has been linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia. She added that remaining inside a house offers 10 percent protection, 40 percent protection in a basement—for just two hours.
“Cape Downwinders define ‘shelter in place’ as, ‘Shut up, sit down, and eat your cesium,’ ” she said.
Ms. Turco pointed out that, in February, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission downgraded Pilgrim Nuclear to “one of the nine worst performing plants in the country.” Despite the commission’s own acknowledgment of the plant’s substandard operating record, the federal agency refuses to take action. Ms. Turco called the commission “the lapdogs of the nuclear industry” and suggested that they will not shut Pilgrim down because then they would have to shut down all the nuclear plants across the country.
“They’re protecting the industry and the profits of Entergy Corporation [owners of Pilgrim Nuclear],” she said.
William G. Maurer of Falmouth said he joined Cape Downwinders roughly two and a half years ago, in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. He noted that because the Pilgrim plant is the same design as those at Fukushima and 40 years old, “it’s kind of a no-brainer, time to shut it down.”
Mr. Maurer readily admitted that he is anti-nuclear power and he would prefer to see a switch to renewable energies such as wind, solar and natural gas. He said that his primary criticism of the nuclear industry is its lack of a storage plan for the waste that nuclear plants create.
“They’re just letting it mount up and they just keep passing the buck to the next generation. They promised energy too cheap to beat; but what they’re really giving us is a waste problem that nobody knows how to solve,” he said.
He pointed out that Germany has closed down a significant number of its nuclear plants, and France is moving in the same direction. Spain and Portugal have very successful solar programs, he said.
“And it’s free, and it’s not dirty, so…why not?” he said.
That “why not?” was quickly answered by Mr. Maurer.
“Because there’s a lot of people making a lot of money selling nuclear energy and petroleum-based energy. They don’t want to see it go,” he said.
Arlene J. Williamson of Mashpee said she has seen an increased awareness of the threat posed by Pilgrim Nuclear in just the past several years. Ms. Williamson serves as executive steering director for the Pilgrim Coalition, a network of 25 organizations, including Cape Downwinders, dedicated to raising awareness of the risks posed by Pilgrim Nuclear to public health and the environment. The group holds frequent forums with featured experts and guest speakers. Their efforts also resulted in approval by all Cape municipalities last year of a non-binding referendum to close Pilgrim, she said.
“We’ve seen a huge turnaround in people wanting to learn more about the story; and it’s a big story,” she said.
Ms. Turco said that she is encouraged by the efforts of state officials to have the NRC close Pilgrim Nuclear. She noted that Governor Deval L. Patrick recently sent a letter to the commission, and many of the state’s senators and congressmen recognize the danger that the plant poses to public health and safety.
“The message is out there, but the action is not there yet,” she said.
She said she is also confident that through events like Monday’s rally, Cape Downwinders is getting its message across to the public.
“Awareness and education is what informs a democracy and that’s what we’re doing; we’re hoping that people become more informed,” she said.