Today the editorial board at the Cape Cod Times asked Governor Baker, as the state’s chief public safety officer, to demand the closure of Pilgrim immediately. It’s the first time in forty years that the board has called for closure.

Original article: Cape Cod Times Editorial, April 10, 2016 →

Close Pilgrim Immediately

For more than 40 years, we have been writing editorials critical of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, but we have always stopped short of calling for its immediate closure.

Until now.

The recent announcement by Entergy, which owns Pilgrim, that it plans to close the facility by 2019 serves only to make the short-term situation less acceptable. Clearly, there is no need to invest in the aging facility, and the job force will thin as employees depart prior to the closing.

In short, Pilgrim poses too great a risk to allow for this three-year limbo period.

Some state officials think Pilgrim has enough “shelf life” to continue operating for the next three years, but we are not talking about milk or cheese. We are talking about a radioactive time bomb.

And we have little confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to closely monitor the plant with transparency and a sense of urgency. Whenever state officials, including former Attorney General Martha Coakley and former state Sen. Therese Murray, asked for specific information about Pilgrim from the NRC, all they received was mumbo jumbo.

Further, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has failed miserably in developing credible evacuation plans for Cape Cod in the event of an emergency at Pilgrim. Quite simply, in the event of a nuclear accident or radioactive release, there is no escape from the Cape.

Are we overstating the possibility of a serious emergency at Pilgrim? Not if you consider that Pilgrim was the ninth-worst-operating reactor in the country in 2014. As a result, the NRC provided additional oversight at the plant. Despite that move, a year later the NRC designated Pilgrim one of the nation’s three least-safe reactors.

In August 2013, a Pentagon report highlighting U.S. nuclear power plants’ vulnerability to attacks stated Pilgrim was one of eight plants most at risk for a terrorist strike from the water. Now we learn that ISIS terrorists were casing a nuclear power plant in Belgium.

Pilgrim, which supplies an average of about 5 percent of the region’s energy, is not indispensable. When it was offline for 72 days in 2015, there were no energy shortages. Wind and solar renewables in New England have already replaced the equivalent of Pilgrim’s 680 megawatts of power.

As with other nuclear plants that have been shuttered, Entergy will need to leave radioactive waste on site until the federal government finds a suitable location to store the spent fuel. Pilgrim has more than 500 metric tons of spent fuel in pools, or just under 3,300 assemblies, and 204 spent fuel rods in dry casks. The plant is licensed for only 3,859 fuel assemblies.

So why not secure the spent nuclear fuel sooner rather than later? Why let more rods pile up? After all, the danger from the plant doesn’t end once the doors are closed. Draining a spent nuclear fuel pool can lead to fires and widespread contamination, which means Entergy and the NRC need to develop a comprehensive plan to keep the plant safe for the next several decades.

The spent fuel rods are not the only public health and environmental concern at Pilgrim. In January 2014, Entergy alerted the NRC that radioactive tritium was discovered in a newly installed groundwater monitoring well at the plant. Entergy still isn’t certain of the source. Meanwhile, Pilgrim has been operating on a long-expired Environmental Protection Agency water quality permit for Cape Cod Bay.

Finally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has already asked the NRC to close the Indian Point Nuclear Power Station, which is about 25 miles north of New York City. Last year, Cuomo said Indian Point should be closed because it’s in a densely populated area, which he says makes the risk of a nuclear accident too great. “Indian Point has had various issues with aging equipment, including six forced shutdowns of their reactors this year alone,” Cuomo’s spokesman said in 2015. “And the governor has been clear and consistent that given Indian Point’s proximity to a major population center where it would be impossible to evacuate in case of an emergency, the plant should be shut down.”

Sound familiar?

We urge Gov. Baker, as the state’s chief public safety officer, to demand the closure of Pilgrim now.