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The 525-ton, 65-foot tall reactor vessel for the Boston Edison Company’s Pilgrim Nuclear Station took a month-long, 3,587-mile voyage to go from the fabrication shops at Combustion Engineering on the Tennessee River to the plant site before being nudged into a landing — about a mile south of where the Pilgrims had landed 350 years before

PILGRIMS: 50 Years of Anti-Nuclear Mass: An Oral History


On a sunny morning last September, a small group of men and women met in the Christmas Tree Shops parking lot by the Sagamore Bridge. It was Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, and the line of cars heading over the bridge out of Cape Cod was steadily growing as the minutes went by.

Two women from Cape Downwinders, the local anti-nuclear group that organized the day’s rally, began to unpack signs and banners from a car. They carried them over to the metal guardrail that separates the parking lot from Route 6. Nearby, Diane Turco, director of Cape Downwinders, struggled with a white pop-up tent. As she fought against the wind to tape the banners to the lightweight metal frame, the two other women, Mary Conathan and Susan Carpenter, put down their banners on the grass and came to help her.

All three wore neon green T-shirts that read “Shut Down Pilgrim” and laughed as they tried to keep the tent from blowing away. After finally getting it strapped to the guardrail with bungee cords, they walked back to the car to get the rest of their signs and greet the latest arrivals.

In all, about a dozen people came to the rally — a smaller crowd than the organizers had hoped for — and they spread out along the road with their banners and signs. Cars began honking almost immediately. Occasionally, someone rolled down a window and cheered.

Photo by Miriam Wasser

“I am amazed now how many people are paying attention,” Carpenter said. Up until a few years ago, she explained, a lot of people in the area supported the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. “People were saying that we need the power and it keeps our rates down. Now people thank us.”

For those on the Cape, the Pilgrim question is hard to ignore — and not only because of regular public demonstrations like the annual Labor Day and Memorial Day rallies at the bridge. Massachusetts’ sole nuclear power plant has been in the news for several problems, including during the most recent winter storms.

In 2015, after a series of unplanned shutdowns, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission downgraded the Plymouth plant’s safety rating and deemed it one of the three worst-performing reactors in the country. Shortly thereafter, Pilgrim’s owner-operator, Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation, announced that it would close the plant by June 2019.

For those at the bridge, the upcoming closure, while exciting, also presents a whole new host of safety concerns.

“What happens at Pilgrim could set precedent for the country, and we’re pushing for Pilgrim to be the poster child for public safety,” Turco said. “Unfortunately, we have a lot more work to do. We hope that we’ve provided a foundation for activism in our community, but this is going to be an ongoing issue.”

With the plant about to enter its final year of operation, and anti-Pilgrim activists planning the next stages of their campaign, it seemed a fitting time to look back at the 50-year fight against one of the country’s most problematic nuclear power plants.

What follows is an oral history of the anti-Pilgrim movement, patched together from extensive interviews conducted with more than 20 experts and activists, many of whom have spent countless hours litigating in court, writing petitions, attending demonstrations, and even sitting in jail cells. The message, tactics, politics, and players have changed over the past half-century, but the underlying effort — to stand up for the health and safety of their families and neighbors — has been unrelenting.

Photo courtesy of Joyce Johnson


In the mid-1960s, the Massachusetts utility Boston Edison Company began talking about building a nuclear power plant in Plymouth. The company sent representatives to the town to talk with residents and elected officials about the economic benefits such a plant could bring.

MEG SHEEHAN (environmental lawyer, former Plymouth resident): I remember being a kid and growing up in Plymouth. It was a very small town [between 15,000 and 18,000 residents, according to US Census records from the time] and it didn’t have a lot of industry. The local rope factory, Cordage Company … had closed, so the town selectmen were trying to attract new industries.

This was the time period when industry was taking the technology developed during the Manhattan Project and trying to find a commercial use for it. So Boston Edison was trying to convince everyone that nuclear power was clean and safe. I remember that Boston Edison came into town and they had a trailer parked outside of the elementary school. They went around telling people that nuclear power was green and clean and safe; the town selectmen bought it hook, line, and sinker. Meanwhile, we were learning to duck and cover in class.

In 1967, with the town of Plymouth on board, Boston Edison submitted a proposal to the US Atomic Energy Commission — the predecessor of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC — to build the plant. The agency approved the request, and construction began the following year.

MEG SHEEHAN: That’s when I first got involved. I asked my mother if I could put a sign on our front lawn that said “No Nukes” or “Don’t Build Pilgrim.” I was 13 and my parents lived on Route 3A, so [the construction company] was driving all these trucks to Pilgrim past our house. The sign was very visible.

Lawn signs didn’t stop construction, and Pilgrim began producing power in 1972. Shortly thereafter, Boston Edison announced plans to construct two more reactors — Pilgrim 2 and Pilgrim 3.

BILL ABBOTT (lawyer, co-founder of Plymouth County Nuclear Information Center): [My family] moved to Plymouth in 1973. Pilgrim 1 had just opened a few years before we got here, but we paid little attention to it initially. Then there was a story in the local paper that said Boston Edison was trying to get permits to build two additional reactors, and they were going to do it quickly. They thought the permitting for the next two would be simple. They stated that the second reactor, Pilgrim 2, would open in 1975, and Pilgrim 3 sometime in the late ’70s. The newspaper story concluded, I remember, by saying that there was no known opposition. So they thought these two additional units would be a slam-dunk and they’d have a real fast approval process.

I was living only four or five miles from the site, so I started looking into issues with nuclear power. The more I read, the more concerned I got. … I started reaching out, and I can’t remember how we got hooked up, but I started talking with the Union of Concerned Scientists [and other concerned citizens].

We formed a local group, Plymouth County Nuclear Information Center, called PICNIC, and we became the organization that for the next 10–15 years led the fight against Pilgrim 2 and 3, and then back against Pilgrim 1. … I always thought it was important to have an organization that would be conducting this, and not just an individual.

In 1974 or ’75 we opened a storefront in downtown Plymouth. … It was right by the corner of Main Street and Court Street, on the block next to the fire station. It looked like a political campaign office: It had tables, some posters, and a lot of signage. It basically was a political campaign. It was staffed by one person, and people would walk in off the street and we’d give them literature, just like at a political campaign headquarters. … We’d prepare little pamphlets that we’d print and pass out. It was a black pamphlet and the big headline was “Do you know what plutonium is?” And then a couple lines down it’d say: “You better find out.” Then the inside would be the whole story about how Pilgrim produces plutonium as a byproduct and that it is incredibly deadly.

Architect’s rendering of proposed Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Units 2 and 3 to be built adjacent to the present Reston Edison Company’s 664,000 kilowatt nuclear generating station (right) in Plymouth, Mass. Circa 1974

ED RUSSELL (lawyer, activist, Plymouth resident): I had some knowledge that there was a nuclear plant here, but I wasn’t really aware of the consequences of having that plant until I picked that up from Bill Abbott.

PINE DUBOIS (executive director of Jones River Watershed Association, president and executive director of Jones River Landing): I actually moved to the area [in 1975] because of Pilgrim — well, because of Gerry Studds [who died in 2006], the congressman at the time in Massachusetts in this area. He was one of the shining stars of the anti-nuclear warfare movement and cautioned about nuclear energy, and when I was in Chicago and going to school at the time, he stuck out as somebody that had real things to say and was honest and thoughtful. So I actually moved to the area because of him. … And that’s when Pilgrim 2 was looming on the horizon.

BILL ABBOTT: I am a lawyer, so we decided I would intervene at every single legal point. We filed cases with the NRC, we intervened in licensing proceedings and in environmental proceedings, and we filed suit in Plymouth to try to stop the site from being zoned for two more plants. …

Being in so many simultaneous proceedings at once actually paid off because we could use what Edison said at one proceeding in another proceeding. For example, one of the key arguments they had to make with the NRC [to get the permits for Pilgrim 2 and 3] was that they were in robust financial shape. But at the same time, they were making a case at the state Department of Public Utilities that they needed rate relief. So at the NRC meetings, we would enter testimony from the DPU [hearings]. It really worked.

In 1975, Edison announced they were canceling Pilgrim 3 and that they would just try to get Pilgrim 2 licensed. And they got really close; they were so sure that Pilgrim 2 would be approved that they went ahead and built major components of the plant off-site, spending $300 million. But they couldn’t bring any of these things into Plymouth until they got the permit, which we were fighting [in the courts]. … Then the NRC issued what they called a limited work authorization program, which was something the NRC made up to let some of the building start at Pilgrim. PICNIC challenged that [in court] and it was reversed.

ED RUSSELL: Bill Abbott filed administrative proceedings at every single thing that Boston Edison wanted to do. They had to file a series of applications to do X or to do Y or to report each year on this or that. And he was dogged; he never let any one of them go without appealing. It just wore them down.

PINE DUBOIS: When I came down here, I was working with a non-profit dealing with battered women’s services and engaged in organic agriculture. Boston Edison was transporting pieces of the turbine through Kingston on the road we lived on, and since we didn’t want Pilgrim 2 to be built, we organized the kids that were working with us. I had 23 kids working at the farm, and we started stalking the transport vehicles and [shouting at them], “We can heat with wood, we don’t need nuclear!” We also threw pieces of cordwood at the trucks. [No damage was done, but] the kids had fun and it got into the press. In other words, we tried to challenge them in any way we could to get more awareness about what was happening.

BILL ABBOTT: One of the other things we did during the Pilgrim 2 fight was to hold big public events. We had five or six public debates where I was on the opposition side and there was a spokesman from the plant.

PINE DUBOIS: There was a pretty reliable and active group of local residents that were concerned about Pilgrim and stayed motivated and exchanged ideas and rallied at those events. There wasn’t a single set of people at the time. It was wide ranging, with a lot of people from Plymouth, Kingston, and Duxbury.

BILL ABBOTT: I remember that we had one rally where quite a few people came — about a thousand people. It was right at the junction of the access road to the plant and Route 3A. It was a typical 1960s-style rally with folk music and speakers. I remember Ralph Nader was one of our featured speakers.

BILL ABBOTT: By the end of the ’70s, Boston Edison decided they’d spent enough money and they were going to cancel Pilgrim 2. It was canceled in 1980; we were at it for six years. And after that, we began to focus on Pilgrim 1.

ED RUSSELL: Bill Abbott is a key to what’s happened in Massachusetts. We would have a Pilgrim 2 and maybe even Pilgrim 3 if it weren’t for his dogged litigation back in the day. He was very effective at just keeping Boston Edison at bay, which is why we only have one plant to deal with now.

BILL ABBOTT: We weren’t successful in closing Pilgrim 1, but we got a lot achieved. We got monitors that go on light poles to measure radiation all around the area, and we got the state to institute a real-time radiation-monitoring program.

PINE DUBOIS: After they announced Pilgrim 2 wasn’t going to happen, Reagan was elected and he took the solar panels off the White House and killed every incentive that Carter put in. It was a downhill landslide in terms of environmental protections from there, and we focused on other things — mostly land protection and river protection. We let it go, basically, at least I did. And we focused on things we could do rather than things we could not do.

BILL ABBOTT: This went on for a number of years until other groups sprung up in the late ’80s.

‘To The Village Square’ | Photo by and courtesy of Lionel Delevingne

SEA CHANGE (1975–1985)

As PICNIC was fighting Pilgrim in Massachusetts during the mid-1970s, the Public Service Company of New Hampshire proposed a two-unit nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, and another influential grassroots anti-nuclear movement formed in response.

PAUL GUNTER (anti-nuclear activist, co-founder of the Clamshell Alliance): By 1975, a lot of local New Hampshire citizens’ groups like the Granite State Alliance, as well as local newspaper editorial boards and political groups, had started to coalesce around anti-nuclear work and public education. I was brought into the organizing of it that year and got educated on the Seabrook construction issue. At the time, I was involved in prisoners’ rights and prisoners’ family support work in New Hampshire and, interestingly enough, learned about the issue from a group of apple pickers.

The group, the Greenleaf Harvesters, would take a tithe — 20 percent — of their earnings, and at the end of the year would donate the money to some organization. Our prisoner advocacy group had been a recipient of that generosity, and I learned about Seabrook from them.

The next year, the loose coalition of anti-nuclear groups did a march from Manchester to Seabrook in mid-April. We walked onto the then-still-forested construction site and had a rally that [noted Australian anti-nuclear crusader, physician, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee] Dr. Helen Caldicott was featured at. It was the first time I had heard about her, and she spoke so eloquently about the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Anti-nuclear fervor continued to simmer over the spring of 1976, and by summertime, what had previously been an informal coalition of anti-nuclear groups throughout New England coalesced into a group calling itself the Clamshell Alliance. The group pledged to oppose Seabrook’s construction and began an organized campaign of nonviolent direct action.

JOYCE JOHNSON (Falmouth-based anti-nuclear activist): We went up to Seabrook in 1976 and protested there. I remember it was a lot of people and a lot of marching; we just marched and marched and marched through the town. My two young boys were camping with us in the woods too — the only kind of camping my boys had known had been protest camping.

PAUL GUNTER: On Aug. 1, [1976,] during a rally near the construction site, a group of 18 of us walked out onto the site and got arrested. Basically, the police asked us to leave; we said no, so it was criminal trespass. That kicked off and was the opening move of the Clamshell Alliance. A few weeks later, on Aug. 26, 180 of us were arrested.

Photo courtesy of Joyce Johnson

In the spring of 1977, the Clamshell Alliance planned another anti-nuclear rally outside Seabrook. This time, people from all over New England showed up, and by April 30, at least 2,000 protesters were on site.

PAUL GUNTER: We occupied the construction site, having walked on from neighboring private properties — we called them “friendlies” — that were used as staging areas. Two thousand people moved from these friendlies onto the construction site, and we occupied the parking lot. We essentially set up a community there.

The state of New Hampshire sent officers, and there was a composite of law enforcement from various states — except Massachusetts Governor Dukakis did not and would not send state troopers to that action.

We were subsequently arrested on May Day, and it took them about 16 hours to arrest all 1,414 of us. We were put on National Guard trucks and school buses and sent into five National Guard armories and two county jails. They held us for two weeks because people were in bail solidarity and wouldn’t pay. After two weeks, there were still about 700 people in jail, and finally the state capitulated and released everybody on their personal recognizance.

The ironic part is that essentially the state sponsored, or at least incarcerated, what amounted to a symposium of the anti-nuke movement. People used that time in jail to educate each other on nuclear issues, and we fostered deep bonds that then spread out all over the country. What originally was the Clamshell Alliance turned out to be more of a crab shell alliance since dozens of anti-nuke groups and individuals went back to their respective states and formed a national anti-nuke movement. And to the Clamshell Alliance’s credit, the anti-nuke movement gained public acclaim and credibility.

PINE DUBOIS: We took energy off each other. It was good that the Clamshell Alliance was really active and working hard; so were we. It made a lot of difference to us that there was a sense of a movement rather than the sense of a small group of people going after Boston Edison. I think it made a big difference because the Clamshell Alliance was really strong at the time. I don’t think we were as strong, but we got energy from them.

From there, things began to deteriorate for the Clamshell Alliance because “there were some groups that were no longer satisfied with symbolic actions with guidelines that included no destruction of property,” Gunter says. These philosophical tensions came to a head the following year as the group planned what was gearing up to be its biggest rally to date: another occupation of the plant.

PAUL GUNTER: It was originally planned as a nonviolent action, but Lyndon LaRouche [a controversial political figure known for spreading conspiracy theories] told the governor of New Hampshire that he had an informant who said the Clamshell Alliance intended to destroy property on the construction site. Governor Meldrim Thomson then said he would use everything, including bullets, to stop what he saw as an effort to sabotage the construction of Seabrook. We lost a lot of our friendlies because of that, and soon after, our consensus process broke down.

Some people wanted to hold a rally despite Thomson’s warnings, and so without telling the rest of the group, Gunter says, “a few alliance leaders negotiated a deal with the attorney general of the state of New Hampshire to hold the three-day, on-site occupation legally.” Seabrook’s owners also agreed to the plan, and from June 24 to 26, 1978, thousands of protesters demonstrated while law enforcement stood by.

PAUL GUNTER: We had a huge occupation, but it led to a schism because some people thought it was crazy that we had abandoned civil disobedience by negotiating with the state. There were also some groups that were no longer satisfied with guidelines that included no destruction of property, and these people said, “To hell with symbolic nonviolent actions. We’re going to take to the site.”

From there, there were a couple of actions at Seabrook in 1979 and 1980 that were not supported by the alliance — they attempted to occupy the site by going through fences, by cutting them and pulling them down, but it invited the response of the authorities to prevent the destruction of property.

BILL ABBOTT: Pilgrim 2 was announced before the utility company of New Hampshire announced Seabrook as a plant [in 1972]. Pilgrim 2 should have gone online before Seabrook [did in 1990]. Our opposition mostly took the form of trying to stop them legally. On the other hand, at Seabrook their whole approach was the Clamshell Alliance. They thought lying in the street and getting arrested would stop it. The moral of the story is that you can get a lot of good press that way, but it won’t stop a plant from being built.

PAUL GUNTER: The Clamshell Alliance had some subsequent actions following the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, but the whole issue of nuclear power was lost in the chaos [of the schism]. It brought on a hiatus in the movement until Chernobyl. Then we got involved again.

Boston Edison Company’s Pilgrim Station Unit 1 at Plymouth, Mass circa 1972

BACK IN BUSINESS (1986–1990)

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, a failed safety test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in the Soviet Union caused a huge explosion and graphite fire in one of the plant’s reactors. Unlike the United States, the Soviets didn’t house their reactors inside thick containment domes, so an enormous amount of radioactive material escaped from the plant and spread over parts of the Soviet Union and Europe.

The Soviets tried to cover up the accident, but it wasn’t long before the entire world knew what had happened. If the dormant US anti-nuclear movement needed a catalyst to get back out there and fight, this was it. And for many living on the South Shore and Cape Cod, some of whom had never given much thought to the nuclear power plant operating in their backyard, the Chernobyl accident was a wake-up call.

ELAINE DICKINSON (activist with Cape Downwinders): I didn’t pay attention to Pilgrim when it was being built even though I grew up in Weymouth, which is only about 27 miles from the plant. I grew up kind of poor, and just trying to get through college was a hard thing. I was working a part-time job and was just focused on trying to deal with myself. And then Chernobyl happened in ’86. … I remember watching those pictures on the news; Chernobyl made me look at things differently. I remember watching a program where they went back to Chernobyl and showed birth defects and the damage and all of that. And I remember my kids were watching it, and it was horrifying.

PAUL GUNTER: During the construction phase of our protests at Seabrook, we started out with the industry telling us that an accident would never happen. That of course was undercut by Three Mile Island in ’79, but clearly it was indisputable when Chernobyl blew up that nuclear power is inherently dangerous and capable of catastrophic events. The alarm was widespread and reached into the Pilgrim community.

DIANE TURCO (co-founder of Cape Downwinders): My daughter was born in 1981, and that’s when the world became very small. I got involved with the nuclear freeze movement, which was huge back then, and I heard Dr. Helen Caldicott speak with my friend Sarah Thacher — I was 27, I think, at the time. And when I moved down to the Cape, these people that I knew in the freeze movement were also talking about Pilgrim.

PAUL GUNTER: Some of the people that had been involved in the protests against Seabrook took that experience and started engaging in nonviolent direct action at Pilgrim. We participated in meetings and public education events and worked with organizers in and around the Pilgrim community. There was one group called Citizens Urging Responsible Energy (CURE), and sometime in 1986 folks with CURE and the Clamshell Alliance were arrested at the plant’s gate.

LARRY TYE (former Boston Globe reporter): It would have been about 1986, after I covered the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and switched from the medical to environmental beats [that I started writing about Pilgrim]. … I covered everything that went wrong at the plant, from safety issues to controversy over whether it ought to stay open. As I recall, for several years — in addition to my main environmental beat — I was writing a Pilgrim or Seabrook nuclear story nearly every day.

DAVID AGNEW (longtime anti-nuclear activist and co-founder of Cape Downwinders): I moved to the Cape in ’86 — my wife is a native, and her father was quite ill. … Within a month or two, I met some people who were trying to get Pilgrim closed, a group called Mass Safe Energy Alliance: Cape Cod. … I was already against nuclear power, [so] I got involved. …

I remember being impressed with the Clamshell people I met … at Pilgrim when I went to protests. They were people who had come down from New Hampshire. They were very dedicated and seemed to have a lot of integrity. … I’m not saying there weren’t differences [in our tactics], but I was aware of the similarities, not the differences.

LARRY TYE: [When I started covering Pilgrim], people weren’t doing much of the grassroots, in-the-streets anti-nuclear demonstrating at Pilgrim that they were at Seabrook … but there were groups actively opposed to Pilgrim via the courts and ballot kinds of initiatives, and there were lots of angry public officials like Ed Markey and Ted Kennedy and Attorney General Jim Shannon.

DAVID AGNEW: [In the late ’80s], we also worked on getting a citizens’ initiative referendum to close all operating commercial reactors in Massachusetts — it was called “Question 4.” I just remember working to get that ballot initiative on the statewide ballot, and we succeeded. But then we worked to try to get it passed, and we were unsuccessful in that. … It polled very well, but was defeated [in November 1988] after a big, last-minute industry publicity campaign.

LARRY TYE: While Pilgrim never got the national attention that Seabrook did, it actually was a more compelling and troublesome case because it was a much older plant, with fewer of the safety innovations built into Seabrook, and with more questions about how you ever would evacuate people from a place as crowded as Cape Cod and as near to Boston as Plymouth.

Photo of Mary Lampert courtesy of Mary Lampert

MARY LAMPERT (director of Pilgrim Watch): In the late 1980s, even though Chernobyl had recently happened, I was not at all involved in or aware of nuclear power issues. My husband is a lawyer and graduate of MIT, and the feeling in our house was of total faith in technology. We were living in Milton and decided that we wanted a change in scenery and a clean, more rural atmosphere, so we bought a house in Duxbury and moved in ’87. It’s very close to Pilgrim, about six miles away — from my study I can see the plant — but I felt we were moving to a beautiful house in a beautiful town, so what could go wrong?

Pilgrim has been racked with problems since it began operating in the 1970s. Between 1978 and ’79, there were four scrams (emergency shutdowns), one from the blizzard of 1978 and three from lightning strikes. In 1982, the NRC fined Boston Edison $550,000 for mismanagement. In 1983, the plant shut down for a year to fix a mechanical problem. The list goes on.

By 1986, after a critical piping issue forced Boston Edison to shut down the plant indefinitely, the NRC called Pilgrim ‘‘one of the worst-run’’ plants in the country. Many in the anti-nuclear movement assumed Pilgrim would never operate again and that they had won their battle, but two years later, Boston Edison announced that after spending $200 million on repairs, it would restart the plant on December 30, 1988.

MARY LAMPERT: Pilgrim had been shut down for about three years and was suddenly in the news a lot. It took me about three days to realize this restart was not a good idea. I thought, “I don’t want to bring my children up in this environment,” so I immediately started taking part in activist meetings and protests.

DIANE TURCO: Governor Dukakis, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, all the legislators, all the selectmen had said to the NRC, “Don’t restart.” MEMA, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said, “Don’t restart.” FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said, “Don’t restart; we’re not ready and we can’t protect the public yet.”

The NRC overruled them all.

SARAH THACHER (longtime anti-nuclear activist, member of Cape Downwinders): They were shut down and we tried to keep them shut down.

DIANE TURCO: So on New Year’s Eve, right around the restart, there was going to be a demonstration at the plant. We had people coming to our house for a party that night, so I wasn’t planning to get arrested. I was just going to be part of the demonstration. But I ended up in jail.

MARY LAMPERT: When I was arrested with the other ladies, we all wore fur coats. We dressed to kill, so we didn’t look like crazy people. … It was actually very funny, one of the best times. We used to have a lot more fun in the ’80s.

DIANE TURCO: We were on the street across from the reactor, and the police said, “Don’t cross that yellow line or you’ll be arrested.” And then one person did. And then another and another. I think 35 people crossed. When [my friend] Sarah Thacher crossed the line, I was like, “I can’t let her go by herself,” and I walked over too. I had no idea where that was going to lead. Sarah Thacher’s what got me into all of this trouble.

SARAH THACHER: We didn’t spend a night in jail or anything; it was just an evening in jail.

MARY LAMPERT: I forget who walked over [the police] line first, but a lot of us walked over. The police escorted us into a bus and an officer said to me and to some others, “Thank you for doing this because we know this place isn’t safe and we could never evacuate the people [if there was an accident].”

We went to the Plymouth jail, and then it became hysterically funny because when we checked in, they wanted your name and address and weight and age. We’re all like, “Are you kidding me? We’re not telling you how much we weigh.”

DIANE TURCO: I remember it was evening and they had the little window with the bars on it too. There were, I think, eight women in a cell, so we were just sitting there on the beds, sitting there talking. And then a man goes, “Is there a Diane Turco in here?” And I yelled, “Yes.”

“There’s a note from your husband.” And I open the note: “I’ll be at the bar down the street. Come meet me there when you’re done.”

I remember they let us out on personal recognizance [and that we wouldn’t take a plea deal]. We went to court because we wanted to acknowledge what we did and that it was important work to try to keep the reactor shut down. I think it took them three days to seat a jury in Hingham District Court, but they finally did.

Turco recalls that one of the first witnesses was one of the arresting officers at the scene that day. During cross-examination, the defense’s lawyer asked him if, as a police officer, he would be required to work and help manage any public chaos should there be an accident at Pilgrim.

DIANE TURCO: He said, “Yes.” Then our lawyer stood up and all he said was “Will you be there?” [The officer] said, “No,” and the judge goes bam with his gavel. Well, that was the end of it. The judge called all the lawyers to the sidebar, and he dismissed the case. I was so mad; I was like “Come on!” We wanted to have a trial and put the whole thing on trial — have Dukakis and Kennedy speak. We wanted to make it a big issue.

To Turco and others, the judge’s action was his way of tacitly acknowledging that he felt the plant is unsafe and shouldn’t reopen. Even so, Pilgrim continued to operate.

MARY LAMPERT: Since the plant went back online, the next thing I did was put a “For Sale” sign on our lawn. There was no way we were going to live here. Our house didn’t sell, even after we dropped the price. I would have conversations with others who were putting their houses on the market, and I can remember this friend calling and saying, “Oh, this really cute couple with two cute children came to look at the house, and I felt morally that I should say, ‘Don’t do this because there’s a reactor right here.’ ”

DIANE TURCO: After Pilgrim was restarted, a lot of people kind of gave up. … The fact that no one other than the NRC has any power to stop Pilgrim from operating was a roadblock for activism. We were floored by the lack of democratic input into the real safety concerns.

BILL ABBOTT: I wasn’t that active when we got into the ’90s [in part because] the NRC made it very difficult for citizens to intervene anymore. It became very hard to stay in a [legal] proceeding, and basically it was my conclusion that it was a complete waste of time. The rules were stacked against you. [Also], different citizens groups like Cape Cod Bay Watch and Cape Downwinders started, and I concluded I didn’t need to be out front.

DAVID AGNEW: Diane and I worked with others in the anti-Pilgrim group Safe Energy Alliance: Cape Cod [in the late 1980s]. And then for some reason or another that faded away, so we formed Citizens at Risk: Cape Cod. At some point that faded away too. I don’t quite remember what happened during the lapse, but I remember that I felt it was important to have an organization …

I had been put in touch with a fellow named John Barrows, and he made an indelible impression upon me. He’s a retired engineer, and he was the closest neighbor living to Pilgrim at the time. He was also a little bit of a weather buff and had a home weather station. He recorded the wind direction near his house for a few years and he plotted that data in a map. It was from him that I learned that some part of Cape Cod is downwind from Pilgrim more than half the time. That’s where I got the idea of calling the group Cape Downwinders.

PILGRIMS: An Oral History by BINJ




The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism produces bold reporting on issues related to social justice, and cultivates writers and multimedia producers to assist in that role. BINJ supports independent publications in various capacities.

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