Cape Codders Concerned About Catastrophic Event At Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station

Last month Paul Rifkin of Cotuit took aerial photographs from a helicopter flying near the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth without receiving a warning from security personnel or air traffic controllers.

Mr. Rifkin said that he and the pilot flew up the coast in front of the facility twice on Saturday, September 15, but were not warned to stay away from the nuclear plant.

“I was surprised to get that close,” Mr. Rifkin said. “That you can do that is shocking to everyone I told it to,” he said.

The photograph he took that day is a reminder of his ongoing concerns about the safety of the facility. “That’s why the picture is meaningful to me,” Mr. Rifkin said. “It graphically depicts the idea that there’s no security of any real type at Pilgrim.”

Mr. Rifkin, along with four Falmouth residents, were among 14 people arrested in a protest at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth in May. They hope their case will go to trial early next February to highlight what they view as a dangerous situation.

Their concerns about the safety of the 40-year-old plant arose in the wake of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following an earthquake and tsunami. But the concerns were magnified when Pilgrim received a new 20-year license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this summer, which extends the license to 2032.

That’s why the picture is meaningful to me. It graphically depicts the idea that there’s no security of any real type at Pilgrim.

                                                       Paul Rifkin

Falmouth residents Janet D. Azarovitz of Shapquit Bars Circle and William G. Maurer of Gifford Street were also among those arrested in May for trespassing after they attempted to deliver a letter calling for the plant’s immediate shutdown. Ms. Azarovitz became involved in anti-nuclear demonstrations at Pilgrim in 1977, when she moved to Falmouth, because of concerns about safety at the plant. Mr. Maurer has been involved with protesting the Pilgrim plant for about six months, since the Fukushima disaster.

They are active with the Cape Downwinders, which meets each Wednesday in Harwich, the anti-nuclear power subcommittee of the Occupy Falmouth movement, and members of Pilgrim Anti-Nuclear Action.

The arrests followed a protest to raise more awareness about safety issues with the plant and the storage of spent fuel rods at the facility. The group entered a gate and attempted to deliver their letter, but did not “push through the gate” as was reported at the time, he said.

“It’s not like we stormed through the Alamo,” Mr. Maurer said. He noted that the average age of those arrested was 69 years old, with the oldest being 82.

After Fukushima, the group had been trying to raise awareness about safety concerns at Pilgrim, but felt no one was listening. “During that period of time, we became very frustrated because there was no reaction from the people in Falmouth,” Ms. Azarovitz said.

No Emergency Plan For Cape

Most of Falmouth is within a 25-mile radius of the plant, but in the event of a nuclear emergency there is currently no emergency plan for Cape Cod residents. They are especially concerned about spent fuel rods which are kept under water within a large concrete storage facility on top of the building.

Carol Wightman, spokesman for Pilgrim Nuclear Power, said off-site emergency planning is the responsibility of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. Any no-fly zones above the power plant are the responsibility of the Federal Aviation Administration, she said.

As for possible terrorist attacks on the facility, she said, “We have a very robust security system at Pilgrim.”

According to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power website, $11 million has been spent to upgrade security since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The company works with the Coast Guard, state police and local security to conduct routine air and marine patrols, according to the website.

Nuclear accidents are the Super Bowl of catastrophes. The towns on the Cape are players in the game, but these guys have never seen the play book.

                                               William Maurer

The 12-foot spent fuel rods are housed within a 40-foot-deep pool of water, surrounded by a stainless steel liner, and several feet of concrete. “It is so well-protected within the reactor building that an attack on the plant would be costly, but inconsequential in terms of the dangers associated with radiation,” according to the website.

At a meeting last week, Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said people on Cape Cod are not a priority for evacuation because they are not within the plant’s 10-mile “Emergency Planning Zone.” The priority would be to evacuate people within the emergency zone, before Cape Cod residents would be allowed to cross the bridges.

Mr. Schwartz did say that a plan should be formulated for Cape Cod residents in the event of a nuclear emergency. The Barnstable County Regional Emergency Planning Committee announced last week it will examine the issue in depth, but that process could take six months to a year.

“Nuclear accidents are the Super Bowl of catastrophes,” Mr. Maurer said. “The towns on the Cape are players in the game, but these guys have never seen the play book.”

Both Mr. Maurer and Ms. Azarovitz are heartened by the response of Falmouth Fire Rescue Chief Mark D. Sullivan. Chief Sullivan has been helpful in addressing their concerns, and said emergency planners may hold a tabletop exercise in the future.

Both Mr. Maurer and Ms. Azarovitz also said they are encouraged by the progress they have made in increasing awareness about Pilgrim in recent months.

A nuclear disaster like the one at Fukushima is possible at Plymouth, said Amelie H. Scheltema of Gunning Point Road, who has been involved in protests against nuclear power for over 30 years and is also a member of Occupy Falmouth.

Dr. Scheltema petitioned Falmouth Town Meeting to shut down the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, but later withdrew the petition because Chief Sullivan is involved in drafting an emergency management plan.

The spent nuclear fuel rods at the facility are stored in a pool on top of the building which requires water and electricity. Should the electricity fail it could lead to the same kind of disaster at Fukushima, Dr. Scheltema said.

“I would like to see every nuclear power plant on this planet close down, personally,” Dr. Scheltema said. The life of the radioactive material is between 100,000 and 200,000 years, she said.

Dr. Scheltema said she is in favor of the Cape Wind project, and said more power projects should be based on renewable energy such as wind and solar.

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