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Massachusetts Neighbors Say They Are Victims Of Kangaroo Court

May 19, 1989

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (AP) _ At Taffy’s luncheonette, as elsewhere in the small towns of northeastern Massachusetts, there was an air of resignation Friday - the look that hangs over a town that just lost in the semifinals against the team from the big city.

That prevailing wind resulted from a Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision Thursday to allow low-power testing at the nearby Seabrook, N.H., nuclear power plant. It’s an important first step to a full-power license, and a defeat for those who for two decades have fought the plant’s opening.

Betty, a customer who would give her opinion but not her last name, summed up: ″There’s too much money involved in it, and money talks.″

″We’ve known from almost Day 1 that at some point this would happen,″ said Norma Beit, chairperson of Citizens Within the 10-Mile Radius, an anti- Seabrook group. ″We’ve always known it (NRC) was a kangaroo court, and it has been.″

Still, many in this coastal region say they aren’t ready to surrender.

For one thing, Seabrook’s opponents insist the federal courts, not the NRC, will have the final say in whether Seabrook ever puts out even a watt of electricity. The NRC put its decision on hold to allow for a possible court appeal. If that fails, low-power testing could begin in a week.

The administration of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and the citizens groups opposed to Seabrook argue that it would be impossible to evacuate the region during a nuclear accident, particularly during the summer months when thousands jam the narrow roads leading to the beaches.

″The geography of the area and the availability of transportation resources are key,″ said Tom Moughan of Amesbury. ″Also, there are the dramatic wind shifts. A change in the direction of a radiation plume can blow it as far as Haverhill within a matter of minutes.″

″I don’t know how they let them start building without a full evacuation plan,″ said Bob Goldthwaite, manager of Atkinson’s Lumber in Newburyport. ″It’s difficult to get a safe evacuation plan. Look at Chernobyl - we saw the cloud over here. ... How far can you run?″

Arguments like that one are now being made before the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, which since March has been holding hearings in Boston on the evacuation plan for Massachusetts communities within 10 miles of the plant. The plan was developed by New Hampshire Yankee, operator of the facility, after Massachusetts officials refused.

Seabrook officials say the plant is safe and is badly needed to meet New England’s energy needs into the 21st century. They argue that their evacuation plan, which includes alerting the plant’s Massachusetts neighbors by sirens mounted on trucks and helicopters, is sufficient.

The evacuation plan must be approved before the plant is licensed to run at full power. But state officials say that if the panel approves the plan, they will appeal to a higher court.

Ingrid Sanborn, a resident of West Newbury for 23 years, did not attend the first protests against Seabrook in the early days. She said she chose instead to work through the system, attending meetings in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and becoming increasingly discouraged with what she saw.

She predicted residents would not give up.

″The people in this area,″ Sanborn said, ″will go to whatever length they have to.″