Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station Shutdown Begins Friday

Inside the Control Room Simulator at the Chiltonville Training Center. Tim Dunn/CapeCod.com.

PLYMOUTH – With the final shutdown of the only nuclear power plant still operating in Massachusetts just days away, officials at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth opened its doors to the media on Tuesday to provide an in-depth explanation, and even a simulation, of how the process will unfold.

Phase One of the shutdown begins Friday, May 31. Staff reductions will begin on June 20.

“It is an emotional time. It’s sad to see a lot of these people either retiring, changing careers, moving yourself. These are your friends and family basically,” said Senior Communications Specialist Patrick O’Brien.

“I came to Pilgrim about four years ago, shortly before we announced the shutdown.”

O’Brien said that while all non-essential employees will be sent home when the shutdown begins, employees involved in Phase One could continue to work at the plant if it is purchased.

“Based on the details of the transaction, if the transaction occurs when it’s projected to, the Phase One employees will go over to CDI-Holtec,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said the leftover nuclear fuel will be removed and properly stored, regardless of whether a purchase of the station is made by Holtec.

The station’s spent fuel pool is designed and licensed to store 3,859 fuel assemblies. Currently, 2,378 spent fuel are stored in the pool. The remaining 580 assemblies in the reactor will be added to the pool this year.

The station will designate what is now a staff parking lot to store the leftover casks of spent fuel. The lot, located about 75 feet above sea level, will act as a pad to house the casks of nuclear fuel.

Prior to the explanation of the shutdown process, staff and officials with the station fielded questions from the media regarding how the shutdown of the 47-year-old station

Joe McDonough, a 37-year-old Operations Manager at the station, said he’ll continue to work with Entergy over the Phase One process, which is expected to be completed in March of 2020.

“What’s very important to me is to be ensuring that we’re protecting the public and our impact to the environment going forward, specifically with the decommissioning Phase One. My family and friends are among the public who we’re protecting. We spend most of our weekends in the summer at Cape Cod Bay – on or around it,” McDonough said, before reflecting on his coworkers of 12 years.

“You work holidays, weekends, nights with the same people. You spend more Christmases at work than you do with your family sometimes. It’s amazing to me because we don’t spend that much time with each other outside of work, yet we still attend each other’s weddings or a bunch of people will get together after work. We support each other, we have each other’s back, and I don’t think you find that everywhere.”

Entergy Operations Manager Joe McDonough. Tim Dunn/CapeCod.com.

Eleni Sampson, a 30-year-old Electrical Maintenance First-Line Supervisor, is one of many Entergy employees being relocated to a different Entergy facility.

“I’ll be moving to a plant in Louisiana to continue my career. It’s a tough decision to make, to leave behind all our friends and family up here in New England. However, I am excited about my career prospects,” said Sampson, who is expecting her first child this year with her husband.

“Initially, I had arrived at the plant shortly before we announced we were shutting down. It was a tough decision to make, but having worked here about four years now and seeing the commitment that Entergy has for its employees, it really solidified for me that this is somewhere I can grow my career whip out my full potential.”

The entire shutdown process is funded by a $1.6 Billion budget. Just over $1 Billion will go towards the actual decommissioning work, with around 400,000 to be used for the management and storage of spent nuclear fuel.

“As far as the future goes, we still have a lot of work to do. It’s a generational stop on May 31,” McDonough added.  

“That being said, as an operator, our primary focus is on safely managing the reactor. We’ll be managing it safely up to and including the time the nuclear fuel is removed from the pool into the dry-cask facility.”

Entergy Electrical Maintenance First-Line Supervisor Eleni Sampson. Tim Dunn/CapeCod.com.

Following the demonstration, station officials brought members of the media to the Control Room Simulator at the Chiltonville Training Center, where employees train in an exact replica of the control room at the real station.

Officials and experts with Entergy, along with McDonough, provided a simulation of how the shutdown of the station will take place on Friday, most notably highlighting the process of lowering the station from 40-percent to zero-percent operational capacity.

The plant is currently operating at about 40-percent capacity. The simulation was condensed down to ten minutes in length, with the real shutdown expected to take about five hours to completely reach zero-percent.

When the plant is finally lowered to zero-percent, the process of removing and safely storing the spent nuclear fuel in casks begins. That process is expected to last until March 31, 2020.

Holtec says it has an eight-year decommissioning plan if it purchases the station. If no transaction is made however, Entergy’s plan will take 60 years to complete.

By TIM DUNN, CapeCod.com News Center 

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