Last week, four nuclear activists from Cape Cod were convicted of trespassing on property owned by the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station during a 2013 Mother’s Day demonstration. Although the charge was relatively minor, the short trial provided the opportunity for a medical and environmental expert witness to condemn Pilgrim Nuclear for creating a hazardous living situation to Cape residents and wildlife.
Nuclear Activists Accused of Trespassing
Cape Cod residents Diane Turco, Sarah Thacher, Mary Conathan, and Susan Carpenter, who range in ages from 60-80, were part of a permissible Mother’s Day rally protesting the presence of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station that turned illegal when the five women defied an order to stay off the plant’s property. The defendants, part of a group known as the Cape Downwinders, crossed the Pilgrim Nuclear property line to plant daisy’s and draw attention to their cause by being arrested for trespassing.
After police obliged with arrests, the four Downwinders were brought to trial in a Cape Cod courtroom under accusation of trespass. While the prosecutors presented a short and efficient case, calling just two witnesses who saw the trespass occur, defense attorneys for the four women took the opportunity to explain that the four were justified in their actions because the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station represents a danger to the Cape Cod community.
Testifying in their own defense, the four women stated that their activism against nuclear power inspired them to protest an environmental hazard polluting Cape Cod, and their actions were necessary to draw attention to the immediate threat created by the power station. Arguing that their trespass was justified because it drew attention to the “continuous blasphemy” of the plant’s operation, the defendants claimed that their act of civil disobedience was validated as an effort to halt an ongoing risk from operating in the Cape Cod region. To reinforce their defense, the defendants called upon a medical and environmental expert witness who flew to the US from Australia to testify about the harm created by Pilgrim Nuclear.
Environmental Expert Witness Testifies in Nuclear Activist Trial
Anti-nuclear activist and author, Dr. Helen Caldicott, took the stand on the final day of the Downwinders’ trial to inform the court of the negative effect Pilgrim Nuclear has on the Cape Cod environment. Dr. Caldicott testified that the concern over a large-scale meltdown at Pilgrim Nuclear is not the only issue that should be creating worry, but that residents should also be wary of the lingering threat of cancerous chemicals seeping into the surrounding area. Saying, “If I had young children, I would not live on the Cape … and if I was a pediatrician here, I would advise parents to leave. It’s a very dangerous situation,” Caldicott, a former educator at Harvard Medical School who is also an environmental specialist, warned Cape Cod communities that the constant seepage of nuclear by-product into the region was putting residents at risk of cancer.
Further, Dr. Caldicott’s expert testimony attacked the efforts of state health officials to neutralize risks via distribution of potassium iodide pills by calling the medication a placebo that would not keep residents safe from the nuclear waste crated by the Pilgrim station. Throughout her testimony, Dr. Caldicott detailed the way nuclear power plants generate waste that cannot be contained despite efforts by the company or state officials.
Dr. Caldicott was initially precluded from offering her testimony by Judge James Sullivan who was concerned that her expert testimony would turn the trial into a forum for environmental activism and detract from its purpose. Following testimony from another medical expert witness, Dr. Richard Chapp, the former head of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry, who told the court that the higher rates of thyroid cancer in the towns neighboring the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station were not merely coincidence, Judge Sullivan was persuaded to allow Dr. Caldicott to testify about the potential risks created by the plant. Sullivan allowed Caldicott to add her expert opinion to the record in an effort to justify the defendants’ protest against Pilgrim Nuclear, much to the frustration of lead prosecutor, Amanda Fowle, who called the defense tactics “a circus.”
Environmental Activists Convicted of Trespass
Despite the compelling testimony about the environmental risks created by Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station by the defense team’s expert witnesses, Judge Sullivan ultimately found the four Downwinders guilty of trespass. Three of the women were sentenced to spend 30 days in jail, pay $50 to the court, and make continuous payments of $50 per month to the probation department for the next year. The fourth, a first time offender, received a $100 fine for her role in the protest.
Considering the national attention brought to Dr. Caldicott’s environmental expert testimony, the four women succeeded in spreading their message, legal consequences notwithstanding.