By Lee Roscoe
The final day of the trial of the Pilgrim 12 was an emotional one as all the defendants were found guilty of trespassing. As the spring equinox warmed the air, a half dozen held signs in support of shuttering the nuclear reactor before the trial began. The courtroom was packed with supporters.
Once again the Honorable Beverly Cannone entered as the court crier said: "All rise.” “God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
Ben Almeida of Plymouth testified that he had been on the road to the nuclear reactor for crowded, noisy road races, but was "less welcomed" by Entergy on the day protestors were arrested.
Dr. Stephen Nathanson Professsor of philosophy at Northeastern University and author of 80 articles and a number of books, whose specialty is "social and political philosophy" as well as "war and conflict in the nuclear age," testified as to the importance of non-violent civil disobedience in moving policy away from destructive, outdated laws towards more just ones. "Many people who engage in it find it a necessity to violate laws for moral cause" including Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, leaders of the civil rights movement, Ghandi against the injustices of South African and Indian colonialism, and Thoreau before them, he said.
Civil disobedience he said alerted people "to the horrors of racial segregation," helping over time to end the Jim Crow laws.
In view of the ongoing threats to society from the Pilgrim Nuclear station as he understood them, Nathanson said the defendants were justified in using civil disobedience to raise awareness of the reactor as an imminent danger, having exhausted other avenues, such as regulatory and legislative.
Nathanson said access to remedy is an "Old problem. Powerful people have more access than regular citizens, and the history of regulatory agencies" seems to disregard those with less power.
One of the four pro bono councilors argued that as "the enabling statute" for the reactor was under the jurisdiction of federal NRC regulations, Entergy was in part a public agency, not merely a for profit business such as a mall store or even a coal power plant under state law, and so Entergy had an obligation to uphold the Constitutional rights of protesters to free speech and to assembly.
Then state senator and CEO of Cape Air Dan Wolf took the stand. Through questioning he disclosed his grave concerns for the safety of the reactor. A first hand visit to the reactor revealed old technology which was replaced as needed, with none of the kind of mandatory overhauls his company must perform on aircraft. "It was unsettling to find that they can't replace the primary containment vessel. That's as if you could not replace the engine on an airplane." Wolf said that decades ago the necessity defense was not allowed in court. "But times have changed: that was before Three Mile Isand, Chernobyl and Fuksuhima."
Wolf said that as the "risk is not zero," it was "unacceptable, simply unacceptable” whether because of the danger of ongoing short term releases of radiation or catastrophic accident resulting from "system failure, terrorist attack, or worker mistakes.”
"The consequences for this region are simply unimaginable."
Moreover we do not need the electricity, he stated, according to the ISO of New England.
"Have you sent letters to government agencies?" Counsel asked.
"So many that you would have to read me the dates and let me respond, yes, because I cannot remember all of them."
He said it was a responsibility of his job that he had tried to exhaust every means available to him as representative of 170,000 people, but so far to no avail (adding that many in the courtroom had been trying for decades.)
It is a process of “component malfunction, then system failures, which lead to catastrophe,” Wolf underlined.
The CEO compared the NRC to the FAA , which balances well the need for business to function profitably with the need for safety and which is a good watch dog, whereas, he said, the NRC favors private profit over public safety.
Stating that the defendants were some of the most responsible and conscientious people in the community, he felt they had done that community a service by raising awareness of the of the imminent dangers of the reactor.
“If insurance companies which are experts will not assess and charge for insurance the risks of nuclear accidents, what does that say? The Cape has 75 billion dollars of value in real estate. The NRC has mandated Entergy put a side only some 22 billion in case of accident.
The potential damage is in fact uninsurable.”
Closing arguments followed. With mathematical elegance the counselors stressed the defendants’ right of free speech to alert the public to the urgency of clear and present danger. They cited many precedents which would support the “necessity” defense which must prove imminent danger, exhaustion of other resources for remedy, and efficacy of result, saying those on trial had demonstrated all three.
Pro se defendants spoke. Doug Long said that were external electricity to the reactor and then back up diesel generators to be out of commission, melt down could occur, and a lack of the ability to effectively evacuate would endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands not just on Cape Cod but in Boston as well depending on which way the wind blew.
Diane Turco said that Cape Codders would be “collateral damage”, and asked that the NRC “remove the threat, and not the people.” She expressed the futility of conventional venues of change cited the prior experts concerns and said, “We will not be radiation refugees.”
“It was Entergy which refused to take our letter. So we refused to leave. We were not trespassing. We were entering crime a scene.”
Attorney Bruce Taub of Orleans, moved the audience and even the judge with a memorable speech worthy of the best tradition of law. He said this is not the case of trespass to kill a dog attacking a child, with an immediate allowable need to violate the law, but something far more dire.
“You and I,” he said addressing the judge, “have judged murderers. But this is the most significant case I have ever tried. For all the horror of other crimes they are not as bad as what Entergy corporation has done. It is a mass murderer, causing harm to countless people and their families, with potential to harm millions.” He said that as a result of the Citizens United decision the Supreme Court has made Entergy Corporation a person, adding, this person has its head in Lousiana, its feet elsewhere and its heart who knows here. This “person” Taub said, can “spew radiation” without consequence.
The District Attorney prosecuting for the Commonwealth said that actors of civil disobedience such as trespass must accept the consequences of breaking the law, and that for all the compelling arguments and the danger to the community the reactor may or may not pose, those on trial had trespassed. He asked that they be convicted and that the judge mandate they keep away from Entergy’s premises until the end of the year.
The court recessed for an hour. Upon returning Judge Cannone rendered the verdict. All were found guilty. All were sentenced to one day in prison, but were deemed, because of their arrest, handcuffing and five hour detention last spring, to have served that sentence.
Counsel and pro se defendants vociferously thanked Judge Cannone for allowing the voice of the people to be heard.
Cape Downwinders vowed to continue to fight for our community until Pilgrim is closed.
(Above right: The "Pilgrim 12" and other Cape Downwinder supports following the guilty verdict. Photo courtesy of Diane Turco.)