Four anti-nuclear grandmothers found guilty of Mother’s Day trespass at Pilgrim nuclear power plant

Cape Cod Times/Christine Hochkeppel

Cape Cod Times/Christine Hochkeppel

Medical expert testifies in trial of Pilgrim nuke plant activists

from the Cape Cod Times

by Christine Legere

October 23, 2014

PLYMOUTH — 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.

Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.


Four defendants after trial with Dr. Helen Caldicott, expert witness

Four defendants after trial with Dr. Helen Caldicott, expert witness

Closing Argument by
Grandmother Diane Turco of Pilgrim Grandmothers 4

10.22.14 Plymouth District Court

On Motherʼs Day, 2014, Cape Downwinders held a rally in St. Catherineʼs Chapel Park and march to the Pilgrim nuclear power reactor in Plymouth. We called for the closing of Entergy Corporationʼs Pilgrim Nuclear Power Reactor because our children and future generations are at risk to the damage of ionizing radiation.

The Motherʼs Day proclamation written and read by Grandmother Sarah Thacher that day is as follows:

“This Motherʼs Day action is an expression of our rage against a polluting nuclear reactor and our love for all children.
This is not about an accident happening in the future.
It is about an ongoing accident occurring daily.

We have stood by and watched our air and water become polluted.
The incredibly high cancer rates have become acceptable.
We are churning out more and more radioactive waste with no place to go but into our own backyards and Cape Cod Bay
or to be vented, leaked, and dribbled into our atmosphere.

As mothers and grandmothers (Who are now paying attention) we want this poisoning to stop. We are here to put our bodies on the line with an apology, that we didnʼt understand earlier about this evil that is being perpetrated on our children and generations to come.

Our job is to see Pilgrim shut down and cleaned up.”

As Grandmothers (looking back on two generations for Mary and me, and for Susan and Sarah, three) we have a joyful and solemn responsibility to make sure our children are safe. With the tragic lessons learned from Fukushima mothers, WE WILL PROTECT THE CHILDREN.

We act on a moral imperative with civic responsibility.

The ongoing operation of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Reactor in Plymouth is a crime beyond what we four Grandmothers have been charged with. Damaging and killing of life from exposure to ionizing radiation and the imminent threat of a catastrophic accident that is already acknowledged to be a viable event is a far greater crime than the gentle affirming actions of four loving grandmothers.

Your Honor, with our testimony presented, we hope that you will come to the conclusion that the four grandmothers did not commit a crime of trespassing but, rather, with clarity and compassion, are calling attention to the alarming truth:

That Entergy Corporationʼs operation of Pilgrim Nuclear on the shores of Cape Cod Bay is the real threat and danger to our beautiful children and our beloved community, trespassing on all of us every single day in a most serious and deadly capacity.

In closing,
Motherʼs Day founder, Julia Ward Howe exclaimed:
“Arise all women who have hearts whether your baptism be that of water or tears! Say firmly we will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.”

Most Honorable Judge Sullivan, we four Grandmothers stand in your court as a serious expression of the unwillingness of the government to protect the people and seek your confirmation that our peaceful actions are urgently meaningful for the protection of our children and future generations.

Otherwise, with broken hearts, we will regretfully apologize to our children once again.


Susan Carpenter’s Court Statement

All I know is I spoke my truth.

I spoke of the imminent danger not being in the future but being now as children are being affected by radiation now and are developing cancers now, some not yet diagnosed. I also said, regarding my feelings and thoughts at the time that I was frightened yet proud. I knew I didn’t have a choice in the matter; I had to do it. Asked whether we had made a difference, the answer was yes. I’ve seen the awareness in people I run into and friends who are not activists. People I barely know thank me for what I’m doing.

Despite fear, I had no choice considering the high stakes involved except to proceed with my message, bring a pansy to plant on Pilgrim property to show what a plant should embody. Imminent danger does not mean at some future time. The danger is imminent now. Children are being exposed to radiation at this moment. Many have developed cancers or will in the future. Many are undiagnosed. The ADA stated I had just done the Mother’s Day stunt for the press it would garner and I was able to assure her that this was not the case, that there were no press present at the event. It was done for the sake of the children growing up under the shadow of the plant, to raise awareness to their plight.

Actually, testifying was empowering, was fun. I was asked more substantial questions during this trial than the last one. The ADA is brutal but she didn’t intimidate me and I was able to call her information incorrect a couple of times which I enjoyed. Plus getting answers in just before she objected.

Diane [Turco] is doing a magnificent job on cross examination of the witnesses and getting out additional information pertinent to our case. She knows Pilgrim and its dangers inside and out. Incidentally Dan [State Senator Dan Wolf], our senator, is also the owner of Cape Air, has flown close to Pilgrim, and has had a tour of the plant. So he was allowed a tour of the plant.

Dr. Clapp [Dr. Richard Clapp, epidemiologist. His research has included studies of cancer around nuclear facilities, in workers and military veterans, and in communities with toxic hazards.] testified to the dangers of ionizing radiation on residents of Cape Cod as well as to those living closer to the plant. Tomorrow we find out if we are going to Framingham. I’ll admit to a bit of fear.

The ADA did want us to get a 30 day sentence with 15 to serve and an order to stay away for a year. The judge said serving time would serve no purpose. He knew it wouldn’t be a deterrent to us.

On our probation form there was no mark next to stayaway orders even though the ADA requested them. I’m unsure why, but it appears it may violate our rights to free speech.