Downwinders convicted, say they made point

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Published under Fair Use
March 22, 2014

PLYMOUTH — Twelve Cape protesters who were arrested for trespassing on the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station property last spring were found guilty in Plymouth District Court on Friday and sentenced to a day in jail with time served.

Entergy, the owner and operator of the Pilgrim plant, had declined comment during the trial but issued a statement after the verdict.

“Pilgrim takes security in and around the plant very seriously as it should in order to protect the public. We are pleased with and respect the judge’s ruling,” the Entergy statement said.

Meanwhile, defendants were calling the four-day trial a success.

“The verdict doesn’t matter; the truth got out,” said Diane Turco, co-founder of the activist group Cape Downwinders and one of the defendants. Her group was given the opportunity to spread its message regarding the dangers posed by the Plymouth plant, Turco said.

During the trial, an epidemiologist testified about elevated cancer rates in Plymouth and neighboring towns; an emergency management expert discussed the lack of an evacuation plan for Cape and Islands residents should an nuclear accident occur; and an energy and security expert focused on the danger of storing thousands of radioactive spent fuel rods on the plant property.

The Downwinders had used the “necessity defense,” which required they prove that they believed there was an immediate danger; that their action was effective in addressing and abating the danger; and that all legal avenues had been exhausted.

During the final round of testimony Friday, social justice expert Stephen Nathanson cited Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and the American civil rights movement as examples where civil disobedience prompted social change.

“The main thing civil disobedience does is highlight a situation and bring a level of urgency to it,” Nathanson said. “In crossing a line, (the Downwinders) are trying to reach other people and show them this is more than a run-of-the-mill disagreement.”

During a break, Nathanson said he admired the Downwinders.

“I think what those people have done is reasonable and actually noble,” he said. “People become complacent, then when something happens, they say ‘Why didn’t we do something?'”

State Sen. Daniel Wolf, who represents the Cape and Islands and has been an outspoken Pilgrim opponent, also testified Friday. Wolf said a past tour of the nuclear plant left him concerned over the outdated equipment.

“I was expecting to see all the latest technology,” he said. “They were still using analog instead of digital. It was unsettling.”

“In the nuclear industry, there is a risk, and even if it’s a small risk, it’s an unacceptable risk,” Wolf said. “The consequences of something happening at this plant to the region are unimaginable.”

During his closing argument, Orleans defense attorney Bruce Taub argued the Downwinders had spent decades writing letters and holding rallies to no avail.

“What can any citizen faced with this imminent danger do except what these citizens did to bring attention to the danger?” Taub said.

Prosecutor Sean Killam said the Downwinders did what they believed they needed to do, but they were still breaking the law.

“These folks are not criminals, but these folks did commit a crime,” Killam said.

Once District Judge Beverly Cannone rendered the guilty verdict, Killam recommended the Cape Downwinders be placed on probation until year-end and ordered to stay away from the Plymouth plant.

Defense attorneys argued such an order would limit the Downwinders’ First Amendment right to free speech and assembly.

The judge then sentenced the dozen to a day in jail, with time served.

On the way out of the courtroom, Turco promised the Downwinders will continue their mission: “We’ll never give up until that reactor is shut down.”

via Cape Cod Times

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