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'Not one drop': Activists rally to oppose radioactive water dump

More than 150 people turned out for a rally Monday outside Plymouth Town Hall to call on the public to block the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station from discharging radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay.

The crowd held signs and chanted, “Not one drop!” as speakers on the Town Hall steps condemned Pilgrim owner Holtec for considering discharge as a way to dispose of more than a million gallons of water from the closed power plant.

Rosemary Shields, of the League of Women Voters of the Cape Cod Area, said dealing with waste that way reflects a “1950s industrial ethos,” and it belongs in the past.

Rally pilgim
Jennette Barnes
Participants hold signs at a rally Monday on the lawn of Plymouth Town Hall against the discharge of radioactive water from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

“This is what’s happening with Holtec,” she said.

After the rally, many filed inside for a meeting of the state-sponsored Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.

A Holtec-invited geochemist, Dr. James Conca, spoke to the panel about tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen. Local residents have been especially concerned about tritium because it can’t be separated from water before a possible discharge into Cape Cod Bay.

Conca said the concentration of tritium in water would have to be millions of times higher than what nuclear reactors release to have any effect on human health.

“The scientific community has never observed any humans or organisms in the environment to be harmed by tritium at any level, from any source,” he said. “Not even inside the nuclear reactor itself do you get tritium high enough to do anything, because it just takes a huge dose. And dose makes the poison.”

During his remarks, a few people in the audience held up small signs that read, “PROPAGANDA!”

Dr. James Conca geochemist
Jennette Barnes
Dr. James Conca, a geochemist invited by Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station owner Holtec, discusses tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, at a meeting Monday of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.

Local activists say even the perception of a contaminated bay would be enough to threaten the livelihood of local fishermen and reduce property values.

Speaking at the meeting, lawyer and activist James Lampert said he believes discharging the water would violate the state’s Ocean Sanctuaries Act.

“You cannot deposit or discharge any … commercial or industrial waste into a protected ocean sanctuary,” he said. “It's very clear there's going to be an awful lot of tritium, which is Pilgrim’s radioactive waste.”

Holtec representative David Noyes said the company will not discharge anything that does not comply with the law. Holtec is ready to share water samples with the state at any time, he said.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.