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6 Mass. women set for trial in nuclear protest

MONTPELIER — Six Massachusetts women are scheduled to go on trial next week on trespassing charges stemming from a protest at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant two days after the state was hammered by Tropical Storm Irene.

The women, members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group, used a chain and padlock to lock the entrance gate in Vernon on Aug. 30, 2011, and tethered themselves to the fence, group members said.

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It was one of about 22 protests the group has mounted against the reactor’s continued operation in recent years. There have been five similar protests since the one that triggered the trespassing charges.

The six defendants were identified as Frances Crowe, 93, Nancy First, 82, and Patricia Wieland, 68, all of Northampton; Hattie Nestel, 73, of Athol; Ellen Graves, 69, of West Springfield; and Mary Kehler, also known as Betsey Corner, 64, of Colrain.

Neither Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Kelly, nor her deputy, Steven Brown, would say why charges resulted from that protest and not any of the other roughly two dozen similar events in recent years.

‘‘Historically, the Windham County state’s attorney’s office has not filed charges against Vermont Yankee protesters,’’ Shriver said.

Crowe and Nestel said there was nothing unusual about their behavior at the plant gate compared with other protests. But they said Vernon Police Chief Mary Beth Hebert expressed displeasure that they would hold a protest two days after Irene caused widespread flooding, leaving public safety personnel spread thin.

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Calls to Hebert’s office Wednesday seeking comment were not immediately returned.

If convicted, the defendants each face up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Crowe said she was pleased her Vermont activities were drawing a tougher reaction from authorities. ‘‘We are very honored. They’re finally taking us seriously and they’re taking us to trial,’’ Crowe said.

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