Massachusetts Officials Oppose Nuclear Plant Relicensing

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass., is seeking a license renewal for another 20 years of operation, but top Massachusetts officials aren’t happy about the prospect. The only nuclear power station in the state, the Pilgrim plant has been in operation since 1972 and provides 680 megawatts of power to 680,000 homes. Its lease is scheduled to expire on June 8, 2012, and a new license would allow it to operate until 2032.

State officials want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to thoroughly review the issues surrounding the plant before reaching a decision to renew its license. U.S. Representatives William Keating and Edward Markey, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick are among the top state officials who oppose the plant’s relicensing. Concerns regarding the plant’s safety include public health and environmental issues.

The Pilgrim plant is of the same design as the Fukushima I Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently inoperable following damage and radiation leaks that it suffered after a 9.0 earthquake struck Japan in March 2011. After witnessing the damage caused to – and by – the Fukushima plant (Japanese residents within a 30-kilometer radius had to evacuate the area after the earthquake because of concerns regarding radiation exposure), many people are worried that the Pilgrim plant could cause harm to Massachusetts residents in the event of a disaster or simply as a result of gaps in safety protocol.

Massachusetts officials believe that the NRC isn’t considering seriously enough the fallout of the damage from the Fukushima plant and haven’t learned to implement critical safety measures that the Japanese plant failed to enforce. “With Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station utilizing the same design as the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, it is plain common sense to implement appropriate safety measures before approvals are granted,” Markey told the Associated Press.  

Officials are also concerned about the plant’s age and state, claiming that it is deteriorating, and about the plant’s security, saying that lax security exposes the plant to the possibility of terrorist attacks. Environmental concerns include the possibility of the plant to affect nearby fish, such as Atlantic sturgeon and river herring.

The NRC has recommended that the license be renewed, as the plant has operated without incident since 1972, and spokeswoman Diane Screnci told the Associated Press, “We do believe that the plant is being operated safely, we believe that it has the appropriate level of security, and the staff believes that the review that has been conducted shows that the plant can operate safely for an additional 20 years.” However, the renewal is not final, as a public commission vote has not yet been held to determine whether the renewed operating license will be granted. The plant generates $10.5 million in taxes and has 650 employees, earning community support from its contributions to the local economy.

Entergy, the Pilgrim power station’s operator, applied for a renewed license in 2006, but the license has not yet been granted due to a demand for the review of the plant’s safety and risks. Although the review and multiple related hearings have been ongoing for six years, Massachusetts state officials do not believe that the review process has been thorough enough to merit a license renewal.

Local Massachusetts grassroots community group Pilgrim Watch acts as a watchdog for the nuclear power station and lists areas of concern on its Web site. Standards that the group wants Pilgrim to address before relicensing include: operating a water cooling system that is not harmful to marine life; strengthening emergency planning; reducing the level of radioactive emissions released into the atmosphere and water; and safer storage protocol for used equipment. If you stand with Massachusetts officials and Pilgrim Watch, add your name to this petition opposing the plant’s license renewal.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/paul_everett82/2833549203 

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