Entergy Seeks Exemption from Emergency Planning Zone for Pilgrim Plant


PLYMOUTH – Once the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station closes next year, its owner Entergy is looking to be exempt from emergency planning requirements, including the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone around the plant.

Entergy has submitted a request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that, if approved, would remove the planning zone 10 months after the planned shutdown next spring. The proposed changes would take effect April 1, 2020.

“What they are proposing in this exemption request is that the fuel will have cooled sufficiently after about 10 months, that they would have sufficient time to deal with it and that they don’t need all that emergency planning infrastructure in place,” said Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman.

The emergency planning zone requires sirens, regular emergency exercises and staffing emergency response positions.

Sheehan said the exemption request is fairly standard for plants that are planning to power down.

Plants must provide an analysis that shows what the accident risk would be once the fuel is removed from the reactor and placed in the spent fuel pool.

Entergy’s analysis shows that the fuel should cool within 10 months, which is sufficient time to mitigate events that could lead to a zirconium fire.

Entergy is seeking a decision from the NRC by June 30, 2019.

“We are reviewing that as we have done with other requests of a similar nature,” Sheehan said.

“We want to make sure their analysis is thorough and is scientifically based and we will do that and deliver a response to them when we are ready.”

In a statement, Patrick O’Brien, the Senior Communications Specialist for the Pilgrim Plant said there will be 2.958 fuel assemblies stored in the spent fuel pool after the reactor is powered down.

“After shutdown, defueling and certification that we have ceased operations, there will be changes to the Emergency Plan pending approval from the USNRC that are aligned with the reduced risk of an event after plant operations. Entergy currently provides in excess of $2.25M to fund Emergency Management programs in the state and local communities. At least for the EPZ communities, they will get the same level of funding for approximately one year after the plant is shutdown.” 

Sheehan said one of the main costs that nuclear power plants have to contend with is emergency planning infrastructure.

Diane Turco with the Cape Downwinders, an anti-nuclear activist group, said Entergy and the NRC are ignoring the densely packed degrading spent fuel pools, the dangers of the fuel transfer and the high-level waste threat.

She said seeking exemptions when it comes to safety requirements is nothing new for Entergy.

“Entergy applied for exemptions from Fukushima safety upgrades, from 9/11 cyber-security improvements,” Turco said. “They’ve operated Pilgrim during winter storms when the emergency directors in the area said they could not implement radiological plans, and Pilgrim is still the worse reactor in the United States.”

Turco said the NRC is failing to protect the public and is allowing all the exemptions.

The Pilgrim plant was placed under Column 4 or the NRC’s action matrix, which is the highest level of oversight, in 2015 after a series of safety violations and unplanned shutdowns. The designation is one step from a federally mandated shutdown.

The federal agency has been conducting additional inspections at the station ever since.

NRC Regional Administrator for Region 1 David Lew said Pilgrim has made notable progress in its recovery in 2017 and early 2018.

The NRC states quarterly inspections have shown Pilgrim’s performance is improving. The regulatory agency recently accepted revisions to a Confirmatory Action Letter with requirements to improve safety at the plant at the request of Entergy.

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