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Cape Cod Activists 'Guilty' for Plymouth Nuclear Plant Protest

“The verdict doesn’t matter; the truth got out”

Common Dreams staff

Three years after Fukushima, and approximately one year after their acts of civil resistance, 12 Massachusetts residents were found guilty Friday in Plymouth (MA) District Court for illegally entering the grounds of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant located on the Cape Cod coast.

The activists admitted to entering the Plymouth facility, but using the 'necessity defense,' declared they were innocent of "trespassing" because they were trying to prevent a greater and imminent public danger from occuring.

Diana Turco, co-founder of Cape Downwinders, Cape Cod residents who want the nuclear plant permanently shut down, was one of the 12 defendants.

“There are cancers caused by the nuclear power plant. There is no assurance of public safety in the evacuation plans. Those are huge issues,” Turco said. “The verdict doesn’t matter; the truth got out.”

Bruce Taub, trial counsel to the defendants, told Common Dreams that "part of our triumph was that use of the necessity defense was allowed, it just wasn't sufficient to persuade a judge that the defendants in this action weren't guilty of trespass."

"The defendants were clear that their principal goal all along was to “put Entergy on trial” and to use their arrests to serve that end. We were very fortunate to draw a judge who gave us remarkably free range to put forward our case against Entergy, to advance the necessity defense, and to present our expert and lay evidence at trial and thereby to the public," Taub said.

The judge ruled the standards for the necessity defense were not met.

The 12 defendants were found guilty and each was sentenced to a day in jail, or time served.

Those defendants are: Elaine Dickinson, Bill Maurer, Diane Turco, Doug Long, Femke Rosenbaum, Janet Azarovitz, Joyce Johnson, Margaret Rice Moir, Mike Risch, Paul Rifkin, Sarah Thacher, and Susan Carpenter.

(Updated to include Bruce Taub's comments)

WBUR radio in Boston reports:

The Cape Cod Times reports:

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 letter-writing 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.

...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.”

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