Noted anti-nuclear author allowed to testify at Pilgrim Station trespassing trial

Dr. Helen Caldecott at Plymouth District Court.

Dr. Helen Caldicott at Plymouth District Court.

Anti-nuclear activist Dr Helen Caldicott will be allowed to testify at the trial of four Cape Cod women accused of trespassing at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

This reverses a previous decision by Judge James Sullivan on Friday. Sullivan originally ruled that Caldicott testimony would be speculative, but reserved the right to change his mind if later evidence proved relevant.

The defense argues that the women were justified in their actions because the plant represents an immediate threat the populace. To the prosecution, it’s  just trespassing.

Assistant District Attorney Amanda Fowle made quick work of her case, calling only two witnesses on Friday.  Peter Daily, the security superintendent at Pilgrim Station testified that extra personnel, along with a Plymouth Police detail were assigned on Mothers’ Day in anticipation of a protest by the Cape Downwinders at the power plant’s main entrance.

According to Daily, the group of about 20 to 30 people were permitted to stand on Powerhouse Road across from Rocky Hill Road, on what is property owned by Pilgrim Station.  the defendants, he said, crossed passed the rocky Hill Road gate, despite his warning they would be arrested.

Plymouth Police Officer Ed Fein, who was assigned to a detail at the power plant, also testified.

Five people have so far testified for the defense, including three of the defendants.

Temporarily stymied in his attempt to have Caldicott testify on Friday, defense attorney Bruce Taub had defendant Sarah Thatcher, an 80-year-old East Dennis resident testify. Thatcher said she was concerned with what she believed was an increase in cancer and leukemia rates around nuclear power plants. She said both she and her daughter had suffered from breast cancer. Thatcher also said she was one of the organizers of the mother’s day protest.  The protest, she said, was intended to draw attention to what she called the “continuous blasphemy” of the plant’s operation.

Fowle asked if Thatcher trespassed because cameras were at the protest. Thatcher responded that she didn’t notice the cameras.

Monday saw testimony from two other defendants. Mary Conathan, a Chatham real estate agent, described how she had been largely non-political until she saw a “60 Minutes” piece on the Fukushima nuclear disaster. That inspired her to join the Cape Downwinders, she said. She said her protest was intended to attract attention to what she described as a “risk of catastrophic proportions.”

In her cross-examination, Fowle noted that the Cape Downwinders had been permitted to protest across the street from the main entrance to Pilgrim Station. She asked if Conathan trespassed just to get arrested. Conathan said she acted to draw attention to what she saw as an important issue.

Defendant Susan Carpenter of South Dennis, who also testified Monday, said she had a longer history of anti-nuclear activism, saying she had been involved in efforts to stop the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in California.  Taub asked her if the Cape Downwinders had the funds to spend money on advertising to promote their cause. She said the group didn’t. At one point Taub showed a full-page ad by Entergy, Pilgrim Station’s owner, published in the Old Colony Memorial. Fowle objected to the display and Sullivan ruled it out of order. Fowle asked Carpenter if she was aware that the Cape Downwinders were trying to raise $25,000 for their own ad campaign.

Defendant Diane Turco, who is acting as her own attorney, disputed the number during her questioning of her co-defendant, saying only $1,500 had been raised by an offshoot group, the Down Cape Downwinders.

Also testifying on Monday where State Senator Dan Wolf and Dr. Richard Clapp, the former head of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry.

Wolf, who represents most of Cape Cod and the Islands, described his concern with the safety of Pilgrim Station and noted that he found the technology at the plant to be outdated. Wolf said he toured the plant two years ago. A pilot and airplane mechanic, Wolf, who owns Cape Air, said in his business it is vital to regularly upgrade equipment. He also said he was concerned with the plant’s vulnerability from the air.

Fowle asked Wolf if he had worked to make changes at the power plant. Wolf said he had been in contact with state and federal officials on the matter. “You’re using legal methods,” she asked, “you’re not breaking any laws?” “Not to my knowledge,” replied Wolf.

Clapp, an epidemiologist  testified about a 1980s study finding higher rates of leukemia and thyroid cancer in seven towns, including Plymouth, near Pilgrim Station. He described it as statistically significant.

The trial resumes Wednesday morning at Plymouth District Court.

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