Each day, Pilgrim I’s engineers pump millions of gallons of seawater into the reactor from Cape Cod Bay. This time of year, the water is ice cold when it enters the plant, but bath temperature when it flows back into the Bay. Were that water flow to be interrupted suddenly while the plant was in operation, a crisis similar to the one at Fukushima could unfold in Plymouth too.
Many local residents opposed Pilgrim I’s construction in 1972. As a young teenager I joined with hundreds of others at a demonstration outside the plant to oppose the planned construction of a second reactor at the site: Pilgrim II (never built). Japanese activists and residents have waged a similar struggle for decades to prevent nuclear plants from being built in earthquake-prone Japan, to no avail.
In both countries, industry officials have assured the public for decades that light-water reactors are safe, and that, in the unlikely event of an emergency, residents would be safely evacuated. The Fukushima disaster shows that such reactors are not safe after all. And anyone who has experienced Cape Cod traffic in the summertime knows how laughable it is to imagine millions of people driving millions of cars, squeezing through the bottleneck of Route 6 in a nuclear emergency. Residents in my hometown view the official evacuation plan with bemused scorn.
I remember the day almost forty years ago when I visited Pilgrim I with my Cub Scout troop. As our Den Master drove us to the plant entrance through the thick copse of pine, he explained that the trees had eyes: Security cameras were watching us from all directions, to protect the plant from terrorists. Because if any terrorists did attack the plant, well.... We all knew how bad that would be, somehow, even as 10-year-olds.