The 1717 Meetinghouse in West Barnstable has been home to spirited civic discourse for three centuries, including some of the earliest discussion that led to the American Revolution in 1776. So to stand at the podium on Friday evening, April 25, to debate whether the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station should close, made me feel that I was joining a remarkable tradition, and adding to a long historic line.
I took the position I strongly believe: Pilgrim, now 42 years old, should be decommissioned. Dr. Peter Friedman, a professor of mechanical engineering at UMass-Dartmouth, argued that Pilgrim should stay open.
My position was built on what we know, and what I’ve seen. As a mechanic, pilot, Senator, and of course as a father, my strong belief is that we should accept no risk from this nuclear power plant in our backyard. Because as small as the risk might be, the potential catastrophe should there be a major accident at Pilgrim would be so profound that nothing can be worth it.
This debate was not about the nuclear power industry. It was about one power plant, among the oldest in the world, with a deteriorating safety and performance record, that now houses more than 3000 spent fuel rod assemblies in a vulnerable pool of water above the reactor. It was about a facility that funnels hundreds of millions of gallons of bay water through its cooling system every day, sitting in a location that makes it impossible for Cape Codders to evacuate quickly in the event of a problem.
And I urged us to understand that the company that owns Pilgrim, Entergy, has as its primary responsibility to return profit to its shareholders. My responsibility is to protect public safety. And so I offered a term for what they are doing: Privatizing profit, socializing risk.
Dr. Friedman argued that nuclear power is safe, well regulated, and makes it possible for us to avoid using other fuels that also have environmental costs and risks. We agreed most clearly on one thing: Our nation needs a coherent energy policy, though for me a clear element of that would be a responsible movement away from nuclear.
In the end, perhaps my strongest argument was about generational legacy, and our responsibilities. Here’s how I tried to sum up:
“I am not willing to leave a situation to my children which in the best case, the best case, turns over to them a 60-year-old nuclear power station, surrounded by a nuclear waste dump of spent fuel, that our generation used and then abandoned for them to dispose of. And I am not willing to accept the legacy to my children of the worst case, because the worst case is so tragic that it is nearly unimaginable.
“It is time to close Pilgrim.”
My thanks to everyone at the 1717 Meetinghouse Foundation for keeping a great tradition alive, and for 100 or more citizens who attended.