Scientist testifies about danger of Pilgrim’s spent fuel rods

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So-called 'spent' fuel pool from a reactor similar to Pilgrim's (Caorso in Italy)

So-called ‘spent’ fuel pool from a reactor similar to Pilgrim’s (Caorso in Italy)

March 21, 2014 2:00 AM

PLYMOUTH — An expert on safety and security at nuclear power plants told a Plymouth District Court judge Thursday he believes the thousands of spent fuel rods packed in pools at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station present a danger to the public.

Gordon Thompson, executive director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in Cambridge, testified on the potential dangers of the Plymouth nuclear plant during the third day of the trespassing trial involving 12 Cape Downwinders. The Downwinders are an activist group whose mission is to protect the lives of Cape and Islands residents from a nuclear disaster at Pilgrim.

Thompson said the spent fuel rod assemblies emit radiation. “Those assemblies will be hazardous for several hundred thousand years.”

According to Thompson, the original pools at Pilgrim were designed 42 years ago to hold about 580 spent fuel assemblies. The pools there and at other nuclear plants were redesigned and fitted with racks to accommodate more rods when plans to store spent fuel at a single repository in Nevada were stalled.

About 3,800 rods at Pilgrim are stored in pools in the upper level of a building outside the reactor.

“My position is the original design capacity was much safer than the high density configuration,” Thompson said. According to the scientist, being tightly packed increases the risk the rods will ignite.

A nuclear event at Pilgrim could be triggered by earthquake, extreme wind, equipment failure, employee error or attacks by persons inside or outside the plant.

“There are double the number of rods in Plymouth pools than there were at Fukushima,” Thompson said. “Consequences could exceed those at Fukushima.”

The Downwinders are using a “necessity defense” in fighting trespassing charges dating back to last spring. That defense requires proof there is an imminent danger, and breaking the law is the only way left to accomplish an intended result.

Mary Lampert, director of the citizens’ group Pilgrim Watch and chairwoman of the Duxbury Nuclear Advisory Committee, testified on behalf of the Downwinders, describing her many efforts to initiate improvements at Pilgrim during the last 30 years.

Those efforts included serving on state and federal panels, working through area legislators, sending legal pleadings to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and testifying at hearings.

Lampert said her attempts were essentially ineffective. “It seems quite clear the nuclear lobby have been far more successful in getting their wishes.”

She compared those battling to address issues at Pilgrim to a small dog that won’t let go of an ankle.

“We don’t have the money, but we have our voices and we have our bodies, and we continue to bring these issues forward with regulators and legislators,” Lampert said. “What else can we do?”

Joyce Johnson, one of the Downwinders charged with trespassing, was asked by her lawyer if she believed that going onto the Pilgrim property last spring was an effective way to get the attention of the NRC.

“Yes, of course,” Johnson answered.

Fellow Downwinder and alleged trespasser Paul Rifkin said his group has written letters, organized rallies, held meetings and contacted legislators, and none of those actions resulted in any change at the Pilgrim plant.

Rifkin said he went onto the power plant property to “wake up the population.”

“I was trying to yank some heads out of the sand, especially on the Cape where there’s plenty of sand to put your head in,” Rifkin said.

“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to prevent a catastrophe for our loved ones,” he said. “If that’s a criminal act — okie dokie.”

The trial is expected to wrap up today, with testimony from an expert on social action and from state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, an outspoken critic of Pilgrim.

Defense attorney Bruce Taub expects Judge Beverly Cannone to render her decision in the case today, as well.

If found guilty of trespassing, the maximum sentence is 30 days in jail and $100 fine, Taub said.

via Cape Cod Times: Scientist testifies about danger of Pilgrim’s spent fuel rods

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