Judge Mulls Evidence in Pilgrim Spent-fuel Case

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Trial concludes in neighbors’ lawsuit over permits for storage facility.

BOSTON — Whether they succeed or fail, the residents who filed suit against Entergy Corp. and Plymouth officials over the permit for a large radioactive waste storage facility at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station have at least had their say, according to their attorney.

The central issue at last week’s Land Court trial was whether the utility company and town officials followed the town’s zoning requirements.

“It was a very thorough trial, and we feel like we had a fair opportunity to present our case,” said Meg Sheehan, representing neighbors who live within two miles of Pilgrim.

Although the trial concluded last week, Judge Robert Foster most likely won’t announce his decision until the end of the year.

Foster will spend the next few months reviewing trial transcripts and post-trial briefs filed by attorneys on both sides. The lawyers are also expected to present oral arguments in mid-fall.

The judge encouraged both sides to try to reach some common ground, Sheehan said. “Even though we had the trial, it’s never too late to settle,” she said.

Filed in 2014 by a handful of residents, the lawsuit contends that the spent-fuel facility will affect property values. The town of Plymouth improperly granted permits to Entergy, Pilgrim’s owner-operator, in 2013, they say.

The plaintiffs say a special permit process with a public hearing should have been required.

Defendants in the case are Entergy; Plymouth Building Commissioner Paul McAuliffe, who issued a building permit for a concrete pad where massive dry casks would store spent fuel; and members of the Plymouth Zoning Board of Appeals, who upheld the building commissioner’s decisions on the permit.

Sheehan recently said the case came down to whether the spent-fuel facility “is a matter of right or does it require a special permit, which would require a public hearing and allow Plymouth to add conditions.”

“It’s a groundbreaking case that would set precedent around the country on nuclear waste storage,” she said.

Entergy sent this written comment on the trial: “While the hearing portion of the trial before the Massachusetts Land Court regarding our dry cask storage pad is complete, the case is ongoing, therefore we cannot comment other than to state we are confident we followed the proper protocols and regulations the town established in building the pad.”

The judge noted how serious the issues were on both sides, Sheehan said. Neighbors were concerned over property values and the alleged lack of a proper permitting process for waste storage, and Entergy argued regarding the burden of obligations it would bear.

When the lawsuit was filed, the large concrete pad to hold massive casks with radioactive spent fuel had not yet been built. Since then, Entergy has constructed the pad about 150 feet from the shore of Cape Cod Bay and placed three casks there that store 200 spent-fuel assemblies.

Pilgrim currently stores another 3,300 spent-fuel assemblies in a large pool above the reactor. Those eventually will be placed in dry casks.

Neighbors testified at the trial, along with an economist who backed their argument on real estate impact with studies that showed properties near spent-fuel storage facilities would lose value.


  1. Donna Gilmore

    This FAQ sheet from Pilgrim contains many misleading statements. For example, canisters cannot be inspected on the outside or inside and are subject to short-term cracking. See government and scientific references at SanOnofreSafety.org.

    Holtec canister President says even a microscopic through-wall crack will release millions of curies of radionuclides and that there is no feasible way to repair the cracks. There is no seismic rating for cracked canisters and canisters with cracks cannot be transported (per NRC regulations). These canisters are only 1/2″ thick. The NRC said the Koeberg nuclear plant had a comparable container leak in only 17 years. The Koeberg cracks were deeper than the 1/2 thin-walled Holtec canisters. Most of the rest of the world and a few U.S. utilities use thick-walled casks 10″ to almost 20″ thick. The NRC (Director Mark Lombard) refuses to raise it’s minimum standards, allowing utilities to continue choose inferior canisters.

    • Cape Cod Bay Watch

      Cape Cod Bay Watch

      Thanks for the information. Even more of a reason that casks should not be placed so close to Cape Cod Bay.

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