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Nuclear Watchdog

Alumna advocates for responsible storage of waste
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

When the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station was permanently closed at the end of May 2019, Diane Turco thought she could finally relax. The Harwich resident was a founding member and executive director of the citizens group Cape Downwinders, and since 1980 had been working on multiple fronts to have the nuclear power plant shuttered.

However, the closing of the 680-megawatt reactor after more than 46 years of operation turned out to be merely the end of the first chapter. As predicted by experts as far back as 1971, ensuring the safe disposal of the spent nuclear rods – nuclear waste – is a formidable problem on its own.

These days Ms. Turco and her group continue working to bring attention to this issue.

“We’re just trying to say to the state we’re at risk until the waste is taken care of,” she said. “But nobody knows what to do with this stuff, and it’s dangerous and can remain so for tens of thousands of years.”

The nuclear waste at the Pilgrim site is stored in canisters, and threats from leakage to terrorist attacks are very real, Ms. Turco said.

Roughly 100 decommissioned nuclear plants exist around the world, each having its own potential for catastrophe.

Over the decades, Ms. Turco has taken part in countless meetings, protests and media interviews, as well as writing letters, calling lawmakers, networking and much more. She has been arrested four times, all for a cause to which she has dedicated more than half her life.

Ms. Turco and her fellow activists are asking for responsible storage of the waste and improved safety plans for residents who live within 50 miles of the Pilgrim waste dump in case of a radiological release.

Her professional life was spent in special education working with severely disabled children at the Paul A. Dever School in Taunton, after gaining her initiation in the field working in Bridgewater State’s Children’s Physical Developmental Clinic. She also earned a graduate degree from Northeastern University.

Supporting Ms. Turco’s work is husband Tom, ’76, who worked as an adaptive physical education teacher and garnered national recognition for his role as Barnstable girls volleyball coach. The couple has two children.

It was on the job where her life of activism began. Ms. Turco worked on important issues such as inclusion, civil rights, education for all and community acceptance for children with multiple disabling conditions. She retired in 2012 after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, when it became clear that the same thing could happen in her own backyard.

“I keep thinking we’re going to have to apologize to the next generation that we didn’t get this taken care of,” Ms. Turco said. “But we cannot give up.”

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