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Patrick Pledges To Write To Regulators About Nuclear Plant

BOSTON — It was three years ago Tuesday that nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, were hit by a huge tsunami and started melting down.

The reactors at Fukushima are the same type as the one at the only nuclear power station in Massachusetts. On this anniversary, Gov. Deval Patrick is taking up the cause of activists who want the Pilgrim reactor in Plymouth shut down.

The governor agreed to get involved after a State House demonstration and sit-in at his office.

At The Rally

At the State House rally, Diane Turco read the names of all 15 towns on Cape Cod.

Protestors gather in the lobby of Gov. Deval Patrick's office Monday afternoon. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)

Protestors gather in the lobby of Gov. Deval Patrick’s office Monday afternoon. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)

Turco is co-founder of Cape Downwinders, an organization that’s been fighting for years to shut down the Pilgrim nuclear plant.

Representatives from each town on the Cape attended the rally, carrying with them the certified results from last November’s question posed at a town meeting. Turco said the nonbinding petition passed unanimously.

“The petition question called on Gov. Patrick to request that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uphold their mandate for public safety by closing the Pilgrim nuclear reactor in Plymouth because the public safety cannot be assured,” she said.

The anti-nuclear activists say the design of the 42-year-old Pilgrim plant is fatally flawed: the cooling system is outmoded and unsafe. They warn the accumulated waste stored above the reactor from all of those years of producing electricity from atomic energy is an accident waiting to happen.

“If there were a significant release of radiation you’re talking about relocating hundreds of thousands of people, permanently or for decades, which just seems like a bizarre plan to have on the shelf for a power plant that we don’t even need,” said state Sen. Daniel Wolf, who represents the Cape and Islands.

Pilgrim produces about 10 percent of the state’s electricity. If there were a severe accident the state has plans to evacuate the Cape for a 10-mile radius. That’s what the federal NRC requires. But after the Fukushima disaster U.S. officials ordered Americans there to evacuate 50 miles around the plant. If that happened to Pilgrim it would include Boston.

At Monday’s rally organizers played a video recorded two years ago when Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz spoke to the residents of Harwich.

“And the unfortunate reality, which is what Fukushima faces today, is that this area may well be closed to anyone for years to come,” he said.

Entergy’s Response

Entergy, the company that owns and operates Pilgrim, plans to shut down its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant by year’s end. It’s smaller but similar in design to Pilgrim. Entergy spokesperson Joyce McMahon said that was an economic decision. Pilgrim is safe, she said, and activists are wrong.

“We respect the right of the opponents to make their opinions known,” she said. “And we’re going to continue to focus on operating the plant safely and reliably.”

After their State House rally, anti-Pilgrim activists occupied Patrick’s office, demanding that the governor take up their cause.

After a three-hour wait, the governor met briefly with Turco. He said he shares the protesters’ concerns about the safety of the Pilgrim plant and pledged to write the NRC in Washington. But while Patrick is responsible for the safety of Massachusetts residents he has no authority when it comes to the nuclear plant. That’s a federal issue.

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