By CHRISTINE LEGERE
March 20, 2014
PLYMOUTH — Residents who live in Plymouth or other towns near the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station run an increased risk of developing cancer, according to an epidemiologist called as an expert witness for the defense Wednesday during the trespassing trial of 12 Cape activists in Plymouth District Court.
Richard Clapp, a retired professor from the Boston University School of Public Health, said the continued operation of the Plymouth plant was “a risk and an unacceptable risk in my view.”
Clapp is the scientist who originally established and directed the Massachusetts Cancer Registry in the 1980s.
The Cape Downwinders, arrested for trespassing on the power station property last spring, are using a “necessity defense,” which focuses on whether breaking the law was the only way to accomplish an intended result.
Group members say their purpose for entering the Entergy-owned power plant property had been to raise public awareness of the dangers connected to the 42-year-old power plant and to ultimately force its shutdown.
Clapp traced Pilgrim’s ill effects on the surrounding area to the late 1970s, when, he said, the plant was experiencing emissions problems. At the time, it was owned by Boston Edison.
“The people who worked there were exposed to ionizing radiation in significant amounts,” Clapp said. “Pilgrim had the worst experience in the U.S. of over-exposing workers.”
In 1980, Clapp established and directed the Massachusetts Cancer Registry at the request of the Department of Public Health.
“In the first two years, we found an excess of leukemia in Plymouth and towns around Pilgrim,” he said. “There was a fourfold excess of leukemia in people who lived or worked near the plant.”
Clapp attributed the increased cancer rate to plant emissions and said those rates continue to remain high, based on statistics released every five years by the state.
Asked about the effects of a Fukushima-like accident, Clapp said the plume of contamination could stretch up to Boston and down to the Cape. People in the immediate area of the plant would suffer acute radiation sickness “and be sick or killed right away or within days.”
Those farther out could develop leukemia, thyroid, breast, lung and other forms of cancer, Clapp said.
Diane Turco, co-founder of the Cape Downwinders, is defending herself in the trial, so she was allowed to question Clapp.
“Would closing the nuclear reactor and putting the waste in dry casks reduce the risk of cancer?” Turco asked.
Clapp answered, “Yes.”
Today, Gordon Thompson, an expert on energy, environment and security, is scheduled to testify about safety issues. And on Friday, Stephen Nathanson, a professor at Northeastern University, will focus on social change. The defense will wrap up with state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, a longtime Pilgrim opponent.
In addition to Turco, the list of defendants includes Elaine Dickinson, Margaret Rice-Moir, Janet Azarowitz, William Maurer, Joyce Johnson, Femke Rosenbaum, Sarah Thacher, Susan Carpenter, Douglas Long, Mike Risch and Paul Rifkin.
During a break, Maurer said he doesn’t know whether the trial will be precedent setting, “but I’m thrilled to have gotten this far.”
Maurer said the process of offering testimony was “cathartic.”
“We all get to speak our minds,” Maurer said. “It’s strengthening us as a group.”
Original article: Expert: Cancer rates are high near Pilgrim nuke plant