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 

Hydraulic Fracturing Related to Seismic Activity in Ohio

Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) has been linked to several earthquakes in the Youngstown, Ohio area starting in March, 2011.  The earthquakes ranged in magnitude from 2.1 to 4.0, with a 4.0 quake occurring on New Year’s Eve that has prompted Ohio Governor John Kasich to order a moratorium on six of the Class II deep injection wells in and around the Youngstown area.

Hydraulic fracturing is a highly controversial process in which large amounts of a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped underground to release natural gases from beneath the earth’s surface.  Municipal water treatment plants are not able to remove some of the contaminants found in the chemically laced water and therefore, the fluid is sometimes re-injected into the ground.  Although geologists believe that induced seismic activity is rare, it can occur under certain circumstances.  After thorough investigation of the geological formations and well activity in the Youngstown area, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources believe that the injection of high-pressure fluid into a well near an underground fault led to the occurrence of the seismic events. 

Evidence linking fracking to the seismic activities in the Youngstown area include the fact that the earthquakes occurred less than one mile from the well and that the energy company in charge of the disposal of the wastewater asked for increases in the maximum injection pressure on two different occasions at Northstar 1, the well linked to the Youngstown quakes.

There are around 200 deep wells in the state of Ohio, 177 of those which are used for the disposal of oil and gas waste. The deep wells are around 9,000 feet deep and are used during the hydraulic fracturing process.  202 million barrels of oilfield fluids have been disposed of in the state of Ohio since 1983.  However, the disposal wells in Ohio make up only one percent of the 150,000 disposal wells in the United States.  2 billion gallons of oil and gas waste are disposed of on a daily basis in the United States!

The seismic events, which have occurred in an area not known for such activity, has not surprised some people.  For instance, Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund’s energy program, noted a similar occurrence of a 4.7 magnitude earthquake in Arkansas on Feb. 27, 2011.  Anderson believes that the re-injection of wastewater into deep injection wells is what is causing the seismic activities to occur rather than the process of hydraulic fracturing itself.

Due to the findings linking the injection of high-pressure fluid into wells to the recent seismic events in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has declared new regulations for the transportation and disposal of wastewater. These include requiring operators to document and hand-over geological data before drilling, including knowledge of geological fault lines in the area, and the installation of advanced pressure and monitoring devices.  In addition, the new regulations prohibit the drilling of any new wells into affected rock formation.

Hydraulic fracturing is reputed by some to be a financially viable way to extract natural gas.  However, the environmental and health costs associated with hydraulic fracturing may not be worth it in the end.  In order to ensure the well-being of the environment, more stringent regulations on hydraulic fracturing and the re-injection of wastewater into deep injection wells needs to be implemented.  In order to take a stand and create change, please become a registered voter in order to voice your opinion on matters such as hydraulic fracturing.

Photo credit: evs.anl.gov/project/dsp_fsdetail_new.cfm?id=118