The Pilgrim nuclear station in Plymouth has been offline a total of 74 days this year, 46 of which were for planned maintenance and refueling. For a plant which was re-licensed for another 20 years in May 2012, everyone should be concerned.Keep reading
Last year, without fanfare, Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation started work on a nuclear waste storage facility, using “dry casks” to store radioactive spent nuclear fuel at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (PNPS). Various estimates put the cost of the facility between $165 million and $400 million.
In Pilgrim’s reactor, nuclear fuel assemblies heat water to make steam that turns turbines to create electricity. Pilgrim’s reactor holds 580 fuel assemblies. After a few years, the fuel is “spent,” and needs to be replaced. However, the spent fuel is highly radioactive and will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
PNPS needs a new storage place for spent fuel assemblies; it is running out of room in its spent fuel pool. There is currently no place to send the spent fuel. In 2010, the federal government abandoned the proposed Yucca Mountain geological repository, and no headway has been made on another site. Thus, producers of nuclear power throughout the U.S. expect to store their spent nuclear fuel onsite for a long time; estimates run as high as 300 years.
March 11 will be the second anniversary of the devastation of the nuclear power facility in Fukushima, Japan. I hope all Kingstonians will take a minute to contemplate how that disaster – half a world away – holds important lessons for us.
The nuclear reactor at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth is the same design as those in Fukushima. This reactor sits only 10 miles from most of our homes in Kingston. Although a great tsunami initiated the disaster, the actual cause of the explosions and enormous release of radioactivity at Fukushima was the lack of electricity – electricity needed to operate pumps which cool the reactor itself and the nuclear waste reservoir.
Plymouth’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station – owned and operated by Entergy Corporation of Louisiana – is 40 years old and was recently relicensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for another 20 years. The facility was originally planned to operate for 40 years, but, despite concern from local residents and town officials, the NRC decided to go ahead and re-license it without requiring Entergy to abide by new safety guidelines developed since Fukushima.
Kingston Town Meeting approved an article last April that asked the NRC to require Entergy to suspend approval of Entergy’s new license until full implementation of safety improvements based on the Fukushima experience had occurred. Ten other towns in the region also approved similar town meeting articles or ballot questions. Despite those requests and others from state, federal and local officials, the NRC granted Pilgrim’s license renewal.
Since that time, many of us who are concerned about the risks of continued operations at the Plymouth facility have been meeting and continuing activities to try to protect our area from a fate similar to Fukushima’s. I work with the umbrella group Pilgrim Coalition. Various member organization have been working to get the NRC to do its job of “protecting people and the environment.” We have worked with federal, state, and town officials, relevant state and federal agencies and others to lessen the chances that such a disaster happen here.
For the second time in two weeks, Entergy’s Pilgrim nuclear reactor experienced an “event” requiring notification to the NRC. The scram discharge volume valve (valve CV-302-22B) failed on March 1, 2013 and February 18, 2013. NRC Event Notification Reports
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The scram discharge volume is a large metal tank that collects the water vented from the control rod’s hydraulic pistons during a scram. It is sized to contain all the water vented during a scram. CV-302-22B is one of the valves on the drain line from the scram discharge volume. When a scram signal occurs, this valve automatically closes (or is designed to do so, whether it does so is another matter).”
It’s no surprise and it’s not over yet!
On February 26, 2013, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office lost a bid to force the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to consider new information about the risks to the public safety and the environment from Entergy’s Pilgrim nuclear reactor. View the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals decision here
The Attorney General tried to argue that Fukushima nuclear disaster revealed new information about high level nuclear waste spent fuel pool fires and core damage events that should be considered before Pilgrim was allowed to be relicensed for another 20 years. These “events” would release large amounts of radioactive material throughout the region, with unimaginable consequences.
The Court ruled in favor of Entergy and the NRC, and would not let the AG proceed with the challenge. No surprise there! Winning a court case against the NRC and the nuclear industry is extremely difficult. This is because the law that created the NRC, called the Atomic Energy Act, gives the NRC expansive powers to make the rules about who can challenge their decisions. As the Court said, the Atomic Energy Act is “a regulatory scheme which is virtually unique in the degree to which broad responsibility is reposed in the administering agency [the NRC]….” The Act is pro-industry, and the NRC, in making more rules (called regulations) on who can challenge its decisions, has taken that mission to heart: protect the industry, shut out public interest advocates.
In the February 26 decision, the Court said the AG did not meet the standards of the NRC procedural laws for getting a hearing on the safety issues. The Court also said the AG could not challenge the Pilgrim relicensing under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires the NRC to take a “hard look” at environmental impacts.
The Court’s decision by no means says Pilgrim is “safe.” In fact, the Court said the NRC still has to make Entergy fix numerous defects at Pilgrim, even though Pilgrim has been relicensed until 2032. There are three types of defects at Pilgrim the NRC is thinking of making Entergy fix as a result of Fukushima: lack of filtered vents for emergencies, inadequate ways to figure out the water level in the spent fuel pool, and inadequate core cooling containment. As we speak, industry is lobbying the NRC to say no fixes, claiming they are too expensive and unwarranted. Today, the New York Times wrote about this: Post-Fukushima, Arguments for Nuclear Safety Bog Down
The NRC isn’t the only one who gets to say how Pilgrim operates, however. State and local officials have a say, too. Entergy must meet state and local environmental and zoning laws. Admittedly, state and local authority over Pilgrim is limited, but it does exist. Unfortunately, Massachusetts state regulators are taking a hands off approve on Entergy’s water pollution. Other officials are looking the other way while Entergy is building a $165 million nuclear waste storage facility without proper permits. Vermont and New York officials have been much more active in trying to protect the public from Entergy’s nuclear reactors in those states.
Politicians at the state and federal level are discussing new laws to address the nuclear waste and other issues. Today, The Hill reported that Ohio Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden expects a draft nuclear waste bill shortly. Sen. Wyden is quote as saying, “I call the nuclear waste issue one of those issues that feels like the longest running battle since the Trojan War, and I think it’s time to get on with it.” Massachusetts state legislators have also announced legislation to deal with Pilgrim. Let’s hope these legislators can “get on with it.”
Meanwhile, back in Manomet, Entergy is going to being refueling Pilgrim in March or April. This means Entergy is going to bring in more nuclear fuel rods so that it can continue to run — and make even more nuclear waste.
Concerned residents across the region are telling federal, state, and local officials that enough is enough… and its time to act.
Deb Katz of Citizens Awareness Network calling in…
While Pilgrim was in the middle of a shut down due to a cooling system malfunction, the NRC decided it was time to reissue the 20 year operating license. This is an outrage, and groups vow to continue the fight against the dangerous, polluting reactor in Plymouth.
“Sometimes equipment doesn’t operate as you would hope.” — Entergy spokesman Jack Alexander, Entergy Manager of Government Affairs (in State House News Service, Andy Metzger, May 23, 2012)
Well, that about says it, Jack! You’ve admitted Pilgrim isn’t safe and that you can’t ensure that it will operate for another 20 years “the way you would hope”!
Entergy’s accident on May 22 sent superheated water from a backwash operation into Cape Cod Bay. The U.S. EPA and the state DEP are AWOL and refuse to answer our questions about what happened with this outdated cooling water system that’s falling apart.
Meanwhile, Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard CEO and lobbyists got their Republican buddies in the House to chastise the NRC for being “unfair” to Entergy. Pilgrim Coalition wrote back, blasting Fred Upton and his cronies on the House Energy and Commerce Committee for doing the bidding of Entergy, a Louisiana carpetbagger making $1-million a day off the backs of Massachusetts ratepayers: PC Letter to US House (May 24, 2012)
And then the NRC decides to issue the new license – but the outgoing Chairman of the Commission blasts the decision as unfair to Massachusetts residents who have valid concerns over safety and the environment that have not been addressed. Read the Chairman’s Comments here: Jaczko blasts NRC (May 21, 2012)
The NRC’s decision is ILLEGAL and we will pursue the many other avenues available to us to shut Pilgrim down. The fight to shut down Pilgrim has just begun!
I put forward an article regarding nuclear safety before the forthcoming annual Town Meeting. If you feel strongly about a new high school, seawall improvements, a community center, etc., you should feel similarly compelled to understand an issue that protects you from a nuclear disaster.
To be clear, the article up for town vote is neither anti nor pro-nuclear. It is simply focused on safety improvements at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth. The nuclear reactor’s license expires this June and the Entergy Corporation, its owner, applied for a new 20-year license. The reactor was originally designed to operate for 40 years, which has already lapsed!
Pilgrim has many safety shortfalls. The largest threat is that the reactor was originally designed to hold 880 spent fuel assemblies; it now has more than 3,200 in an overcrowded pool. If the reactor loses electricity (used to cool rods), the fuel can combust and cause a meltdown.
Pilgrim’s 40-year license to operate expires on June 8, 2012; and despite its age, failed design, and unresolved safety and environmental issues, there is concerted pressure to rubber-stamp Entergy’s application to extend its license another 20 years, to 2032.
We believe that the license extension should be postponed until the lessons learned from Fukushima are fixed and all the unresolved safety and environmental issues are fully examined in hearings before the Atomic Safety Licensing Board.
Pilgrim is a carbon copy of the Fukushima reactors and could easily fail for the same fundamental reasons: loss of electrical power, serious design flaws, and human error.
Further, Pilgrim is an “antique.” It was designed and built when the Ed Sullivan Show introduced the Beatles to America. The risks for catastrophe change as reactors age, just as the risk for accident and death due for people as they get older. How many household appliances or cars do you use that are over 40 years old?
An accident can destroy not only “America’s Hometown,” but the entire region, just like in Japan; but unlike the spread of dangerous radiation in a disaster, emergency plans to evacuate or shelter the population stops at 10 miles.
Additionally, the effects from daily operations need to be considered and mitigated, as required. Pilgrim emits radiation into our air and water daily. Allowable releases have not been lowered to match today’s scientific understanding of radiation’s harmful health effects, and offsite monitoring is insufficient to provide a reliable “Neighborhood Watch.”
Last, Pilgrim directly impacts our marine environment. It uses an outdated method to remove excess heat that it generates by drawing in over 500 million gallons of water daily from Cape Cod Bay, along with fish eggs and smaller fish. The water passes “once through” the reactor and back into the bay heated as a thermal plume, scalding our ecosystem. Unlike our fishermen, Pilgrim has an “unlimited fishing permit.” In addition, Pilgrim steam cleans the intake screens to keep mussels from clogging the works, spiking the temperature even higher. The net effect is harm to both our valuable marine economy and to our endangered species by depleting their food supply – this is not necessary. Technology exists to lessen the impact; like everyone else, Pilgrim should be required to employ the “best technology” available to minimize adverse environmental impact.
There is no reason to rush through the relicensing process. The NRC rules allow Pilgrim to operate on its original license until a decision is made on its application; there’s time to do it right.
After describing the recommendations of the NRC’s post-Fukushima task force, your editorial of March 21 then assumes that they are already improvements, neglecting the fact that the industry has five years to adopt them! It’s also an elementary error to treat “safe” as an all-or-none term. When NRC declares that all U.S. nuclear reactors are safe, they mean “safe enough for Americans,” even though Germany realizes that one disaster every dozen years (the industry’s present record) isn’t safe enough for them. Why should Entergy assume the right to put at risk many millions of people all over the world, who don’t benefit from nuclear power, so they can enjoy big profits? Because nuclear spews less greenhouse gases than fossil fuel plants? Several experts, notably Amory Lovins (www.reinventingfire.com), demonstrate a better alternative: adopting easily available, cost-effective ways of using energy efficiently creates more good jobs than lost by abandoning fossil fuels, saves enough money to accelerate renewables, and cuts CO2, avoiding catastrophic climate change. We can do more with enough less electricity to close down, not build more, coal plants while phasing out nuclear power as well. Pilgrim can’t be made safe enough to extend its license; let it die now!
Plymouth resident Wedge Bramhall urges the NRC and Entergy officials to attend an upcoming forum on Pilgrim nuclear plant, and the nonbinding referendum opposing the plant’s relicensing.
The Pilgrim Nuclear Station hidden from most peoples view has been operating for nearly 40 years. Every ounce of high level nuclear waste that has been produced by this plant still sits in Pilgrims spent fuel pool. This plant now holds well over 1,200 tons of high level waste. The waste is stored in what most industry experts say is the most vulnerable spent fuel pool in the business. The pool is well over three times denser than originally designed back in the sixties.
About six years ago Entergy began a process to relicense the plant for an additional 20 years beyond its designed life. So not only do we have a tired old poorly designed plant we now have a high level nuclear waste dump attached to it.