Three anti-Pilgrim activists arrested for trespassing

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STATE HOUSE — Three activists were arrested for trespassing Friday night at the State House after they refused to leave one of Gov. Charlie Baker’s offices, trying to convince the governor to join them in sounding a nuclear alarm.

Citing safety concerns, Cape Downwinders has called on Baker to ask that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission immediately close Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which is scheduled to close in 2019.

Attorney Jeff Feuer, who is representing the three charged with trespassing, said they will plead not guilty in Boston Municipal Court on Tuesday and they maintain the actions they took were necessary in the face of potential nuclear disaster.

“They were there to prevent a greater harm, which is the possibility of a nuclear accident that infects and damages and harms all of the people living in southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape,” Feuer told the News Service.

According to Cape Downwinders, Mary Conathan of Chatham, Doug Long of Orleans and Diane Turco of Harwich were arrested after they refused to leave the office “until the Governor made a commitment to uphold public safety.”

In 2014, climate activists in the Fall River area invoked a “necessity defense” in support of blocking a coal shipment to the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, ultimately persuading then Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped the prosecution.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, Baker deferred to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oversee an orderly shutdown of the plant and said he presumes it is safe.

“The last thing anyone should ever do is disorderly shutdown a nuclear power plant,” Baker said. Asked if he believes the plant on the shore of Plymouth is safe, Baker said, “I believe that it’s regulated by a federal government that takes the process of shutting down a plant very seriously and we’re in constant contact with them. And therefore I would presume – yes, that that’s a safe facility.”

In operation for about 44 years, Pilgrim can produce 680 megawatts of power using its boiling water reactor – or more than twice as much hydroelectricity as the state plans to import through a recent energy diversification law.

Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the agency’s sole focus is safety and some repeated low-to-moderate safety concerns at the plant related to winter storms in 2013 and 2015 has caused the agency to enhance its inspections.

Pilgrim now has three resident inspectors, rather than the usual two, who are there on a daily basis and an additional team conducting an inspection of the facility, according to Screnci.

A spokesman for Entergy, which owns Pilgrim, said an ongoing shutdown of the facility commenced on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 8:27 a.m. “due to unexpected fluctuations in the ‘A’ feedwater regulating valve.”

“All systems responded as expected during the shutdown and the plant is currently in a safe and stable condition. At no time was the health and safety of the public or plant challenged. A detailed investigation of the cause and subsequent repair plan is underway,” Patrick O’Brien said in an email. “The information on our return to 100% power is business sensitive and proprietary and we are therefore not at liberty to make the day and time public. ”

In August, Pilgrim workers repaired a main steam isolation valve that was closing outside the design parameter – one of the eight valves was closing in 7 seconds when it was designed to close in 5 seconds, according to Pilgrim.

“During a planned down power for maintenance and a thermal backwash, Main Steam Isolation Valve (MSIV) testing took place. One of the eight MSIVs did not close in the required time during the test,” O’Brien said. “Operators, following plant procedures, reduced power to where the valve could be closed in accordance with technical specifications. There were no safety implications associated with this test.” Officials said the valve’s location required a shutdown to complete the repair work.

Screnci said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the power to order a plant to shut down. The last time the commission ordered a shutdown was in 1987 at the Peach Bottom plant in Pennsylvania, she said.

Cape Downwinder Diane Turco won a meeting with former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014 after occupying his offices, convincing him to write to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“The potential impact of a major event at the plant is disquieting,” Patrick wrote in 2014.

Turco and other Cape Downwinders now want Baker to lend his political heft to their cause, warning that the Pilgrim plant is of similar design to the Fukushima plant that melted down after a March 2011 tsunami.

“If there’s an accident there’s no escape from the Cape,” said Turco, who said Boston could also be devastated during a hypothetical nuclear accident depending on which way the wind was blowing.

Activists roughly followed their 2014 game plan on Friday, remaining in the office of Mindy d’Arbeloff, Baker’s deputy chief of community relations and constituent affairs, after meeting with two of her staffers for about an hour, according to Conathan.

“We chose not to leave,” said Conathan.

A grandmother and real estate agent, Conathan said about 18 State Police showed up at the office Friday evening, and six of the nine protestors were escorted out while the other three were arrested.

“The group was passive and polite and not causing any issues,” State Police spokesman Dave Procopio said in a statement. He said by 7:40 p.m. only three of the nine activists who had been there since around 3 p.m.remained in the constituent services office, and they were arrested and charged with trespassing. They were released upon paying a $40 bail fee.

In a statement, Baker press secretary William Pittman said, “Despite the fact the Pilgrim plant is regulated by the federal government, not the state, the Baker-Polito Administration has corresponded several times with this organization and offered a meeting with Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton to discuss the issue. When the State House closed for the evening, the matter was turned over to building security, the State Police and DCR rangers.”

Conathan said before her Mother’s Day 2014 arrest on Pilgrim property she didn’t have so much as a speeding ticket on her record. She said while she does not enjoy being arrested it is a way to raise the profile of her cause, and the group was treated well at the State Police barracks near the Museum of Science before being released around 9 p.m. on Friday.

“We just can’t seem to get Governor Baker’s attention,” said Conathan. She said, “Everybody is very frightened.”

— Written by Andy Metzger, Michael P. Norton, and Antonio Caban

Copyright State House News Service