Legislature Creates Pilgrim Decommissioning Panel

COURTESY PILGRIM NUCLEAR POWER STATION

COURTESY PILGRIM NUCLEAR POWER STATION

BOSTON – The state Legislature passed an Energy Diversity bill late Sunday that includes the creation of a panel to provide insight into the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Advisory Panel will include 21 members who will review the post-closure plans by Entergy, the plant’s owner, and ensure it is decommissioned quickly and safely after it shuts down by June of 2019.

The bill heads to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk for a signature.

“We believe it will allow the opportunity for concerned citizens to be involved and informed,” said State Senator Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, who helped to push for the panel’s inclusion in the bill. “It’ll allow for experts to come and talk about the process.”

The panel will consist of residents from Plymouth and other towns surrounding the plant, regional groups, legislators, state energy experts, members from the Baker administration and the attorney general, or an appointee.

DeMacedo said the panel is similar to one created by legislators in Vermont prior to the closure of the Yankee plant, which was also owned by Entergy, in 2014.

Federal regulators give companies 60 years to decommission a plant after it has shut down.

“Ultimately this region will be left, at least as far as we know, with those spent fuel rods for quite some time because the federal government still has not resolved the issue in regards to dealing with spent fuel rods,” deMacedo said. “We want to make sure that those spent fuel rods are in the safest possible way for this region.”

DeMacedo said nuclear power served a purpose to provide energy without greenhouse gases, but also left communities surrounding the plants to deal with challenging issues.

“They’re highly radioactive and we need to make sure we can do everything we possibly can to make sure those are as safe as possible for not just ourselves but for our children and our children’s children,” deMacedo said.

State Representative Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who helped push for the panel in the House, said they have taken a scattered approach for years filing different bills on public safety issues and economic issues around the operation of the Pilgrim plant.

“This decommissioning commission will give us the vehicle to address all of those things,” she said. “We can look at the economic side of it, the impact, particularly, in and around Plymouth and the loss of jobs that will [occur], and look at the public safety aspect of it.”

Peake said the panel can tackle the number of things that lawmakers have been knocking at the door of but have not had any success in getting anything done.

“The establishment of this decommissioning commission is a really big deal,” Peake said. “And it’s a big deal and a positive deal for the folks on Cape Cod and the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Pilgrim has been under increased scrutiny since last year by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because of safety violations and unplanned shutdowns.

Their status under “Column 4” opened the plant to increased scrutiny. That designation made the Plymouth facility the second-worst performing nuclear plant in America.

Entergy recently notified federal regulators about a problem with a neutron-absorbing panel in the plant’s spent fuel pool.

According to the NRC, Entergy said they are evaluating the degradation of a panel made of a material known as Boraflex.

The degradation can happen from the combined effects of gamma radiation from spent fuel and long-term exposure to the pool environment.

According to the NRC, the plant’s owners said preliminary results indicate the spent fuel pool is and will remain stable, or the technical term of “substantially subcritical.”

Longtime opponents of Pilgrim previously called for the immediate shut down of the plant, calling it a “dangerous time” for the facility and people living in the area.

Earlier this year, it was discovered that a worker at Pilgrim failed to conduct over 200 mandatory fire watches at the Plymouth facility.

The NRC said that worker, who is no longer employed at Pilgrim, falsified inspection reports to make it look as if the fire checks had been completed.

The plant first began generating electricity in 1972. According to Entergy, Pilgrim generates enough electricity to power more than 600,000 homes.

By BRIAN MERCHANT & MATT PITTA, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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