Pilgrim’s Troubles in the 1980’s

Lesley University intern, Nicole Cameron, writes about Pilgrim’s 2012 relicensing proceedings. Nicki is a 3rd year student at Lesley, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and will be focusing on the major milestones in Pilgrim’s operating life for the semester. She hopes to become an environmental lawyer and plans to go to Law School once she graduates from Lesley.


Since the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant began operating, it has released pollutants and radiation into the air, water and ground. Pilgrim is notorious for accidental leaks of dangerous radioactive wastes and other pollutants that are detrimental to the environment and to public health and safety.

Pilgrim has been identified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) several times as one of the worst performing nuclear facilities in the United States due to many unexpected system failures.[1] In January 1982, Pilgrim was required to pay a large fine to the NRC for a combination of management and physical problems, which totaled USD$550,000.[2] The NRC identified Pilgrim as one of the least safe nuclear facilities in the entire country in May 1986. Recently, in Feb. 2014, Pilgrim was placed in the top four worst performing nuclear facilities in the United States because it led the nation in emergency shutdowns in 2013.[3]

In Jun. 1982, radioactive particles were released into the air because Pilgrim’s filters burst. The licensee’s 1982 Environmental Radiation Report published results of milk and vegetation samples from farms 0.7 to 12 miles away from Pilgrim.[4] The report showed cesium-137 (a carcinogenic radionuclide) in the milk and vegetation tested was 1,000,000 times higher than expected at these local farms. Due to this, most of the livestock was disposed of because of severe amounts of contamination.

These radioactive substances that were released into the air and environment are linked to certain types of cancer. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 1990 stated that people who live within 10 miles of Pilgrim were exposed to an increased risk of leukemia between the years of 1978 to 1983, as compared to those who live twenty miles away.[5]

In Apr. 1986, Pilgrim was shut down due to a series of technical issues. The NRC realized that Pilgrim’s fuel channel box and its reoccurring problem with the water hammer on the high-power injection coolant system turbine exhaust were not effectively corrected by Boston Edison, who was the owner of Pilgrim at the time. Yet, regardless of those technical dilemmas, Pilgrim started right back up two years later on Dec. 30, 1988.

While Pilgrim was shut down in 1988, the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources held a congressional hearing in Plymouth to discuss the potential restart of Pilgrim and related public health and safety issues.[6] State Representatives at the time, Peter Forman, Larry Alexander, and State Senator William Golden, all testified against the reopening of Pilgrim. Senator William Golden stated, “I believe that the Pilgrim nuclear power station should be closed for reasons of safety, reliability and economics. There is overwhelming evidence that you will hear tonight that it is one of the worse managed nuclear power plants in the country. Its containment vessel has been proven to be defective; no emergency plans exist to adequately protect the public in the event of a serious accident at the plant. Evidence has also been mounting of serious security and radiological control problems at the plant, and a recent study has demonstrated that it would be less expensive to shut Pilgrim down than it would be to allow it to start up again; yet no level of government has acted decisively to shut this plant down.”

Regardless of what these legislative members said under oath, the NRC granted Boston Edison permission to restart Pilgrim, yet not to full power. The NRC allowed Pilgrim to return to full power in Oct. 1999. For ten years, Pilgrim received gradual increased increments of power, which were regulated by the NRC.

Today there is about 1700% more cesium-137 present in Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool than released during the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. An accidental release into the environment would have dire consequences. Due to climate change patterns, the chance of Pilgrim losing power for an extended amount of time, like a severe snow storm for instance, poses a serious risk for public health and safety. Extended power loss could cause Pilgrim’s cooling system to fail. The cooling system is critical to maintain the low temperatures of the spent fuel pool and preventing a nuclear accident.

How is this fair to surrounding communities? These high risks of danger could be lessened if preventative measures are taken. For example, risks could be decreased if Pilgrim’s pool was reduced to low density by moving spent fuel to dry casks storage as soon as technologically feasible.

 

[1] Pilgrim Watch. Spring 2014. Pilgrim Risks: Accidents and Daily Operations; also see: Pilgrim Coalition. Pilgrim shutdown tracker. <http://www.pilgrimcoalition.org/shutdown>

[2] http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ota/Ota_4/DATA/1984/8421.PDF

[3] http://www.capecodbaywatch.org/2015/01/nuclear-regulatory-commission-ranks-pilgrim-among-worst-us-nuclear-plants/

[4] http://www.pilgrimwatch.org/health5.html

[5] http://www.pilgrimwatch.org/health5.html

[6] Restart of the Pilgrim I Nuclear Power Plant. Hearing before the Committee on Human Resources and United States Senate. Boston Public Library. January 7, 1988, Plymouth, MA. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988, Washington.

1 Comment

  1. Kimberly Cole

    Dear Entergy formerly known as Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant, My father didnt live to see 50 but he worked there during your “Pilgrim Troubles.” How about those records finally? Ive emailed, called, & snail mailed. Surely if you comprehend geothermal energy, radioisotopes & thermoelectric generators; you get that I want his Employee Records. Thank you …

    “In Jun. 1982, radioactive particles were released into the air because Pilgrim’s filters burst. The licensee’s 1982 Environmental Radiation Report published results of milk and vegetation samples from farms 0.7 to 12 miles away from Pilgrim. The report showed cesium-137 (a carcinogenic radionuclide) in the milk and vegetation tested was 1,000,000 times higher than expected at these local farms. Due to this, most of the livestock was disposed of because of severe amounts of contamination.

    These radioactive substances that were released into the air and environment are linked to certain types of cancer. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 1990 stated that people who live within 10 miles of Pilgrim were exposed to an increased risk of leukemia between the years of 1978 to 1983, as compared to those who live twenty miles away.

    In Apr. 1986, Pilgrim was shut down due to a series of technical issues. The NRC realized that Pilgrim’s fuel channel box and its reoccurring problem with the water hammer on the high-power injection coolant system turbine exhaust were not effectively corrected by Boston Edison, who was the owner of Pilgrim at the time. Yet, regardless of those technical dilemmas, Pilgrim started right back up two years later on Dec. 30, 1988.”

    Happy Birthday and rest in peace John Joseph Cole. I miss you Dad.

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