By Madison Medeiros
On October 18th, the science building’s lecture hall became filled with concerned citizens from throughout Cape Cod and the Islands, as they listened intently to a presentation given by the Pilgrim Legislative Advisory Coalition (PLAC).
The non-profit organization addresses the environmental, health and safety issues regarding the Plymouth Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant located off the coast of the Cape Cod Bay. Members, Dr. Jim Garb, David Agnew of Cape Downwinders, and Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch, led a panel discussion informing the public of the urgency in disassembling the plant and the foreseen risks that follow.
Leaching radiation into the atmosphere as a part of its daily operation, the Pilgrim Power Plant is recognized by federal regulators as one of the worst-performing nuclear plants in the country.
Radiation causes auto-immune diseases, birth defects, reproductive disorders and cancer. A study conducted by Dr. Richard Clapp of Boston University showed higher leukemia rates in residents located near the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant.
According to the Cape Downwinders, the plant draws in almost 500 million gallons of water daily from the bay, and releases clouds containing sediment; killing both plant and animal life surrounding the facility.
Residents are relieved to hear that the 45-year-old plant is scheduled for shutdown no later than June 1st, 2019; although PLAC and Massachusetts citizens are pushing for a timelier disassembly.
“There’s no single playbook for decommissioning a nuclear reactor,” said Garb, “each time this has occurred in this country, it seems the wheel is being reinvented.”
Entergy, a powerhouse corporation that has ownership over the Pilgrim Plant, plans to work along-side the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in dismantling the structures and removing the spent, or used, fuel.
“Every ounce of nuclear fuel that’s ever been used here, remains on site,” Garb said, “There’s no place else to send it.”
The spent fuel is transferred into a spent fuel pool, where it cools down until it can be moved into a dry cask. A dry cask is a method of storing radioactivity waste that has been cooled for a minimum of a year, but more often then than not, ten. Each cask costs about $2 million dollars apiece and will remain on-site in Plymouth for decades, if not indefinitely.
What is most worrisome for residents is the uncertainty of what will happen with the fuel once cooled, and who will be paying for the site restoration. Entergy and the NRC have made an agreement to pay for a small fraction of the deconstruction, but claim to take no responsibility after 60 years, which is how
long it could take for the fuel to cool down. They plan to use the Pilgrim Decommissioning Trust Fund to pay for the costs, which according to PLAC, contains billions of dollars less than what is needed.
They are allied with NorthStar, the world’s largest decommissioning and facility services contactor. NorthStar promises a total site restoration in about ten years, along with an abatement and demolition contract.
“This sounds good, but it raises questions,” Agnew said, “If the funds that NorthStar permits are inadequate to complete clean up, how do they intend to deal with the financial shortage?”
Residents fear that NorthStar’s proposed ten-year plan alludes to a cheap, quick clean-up, which is just as damaging to the environment. PLAC will continue to oversee the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Power Plant by holding public meetings, providing annual reports, and supplying the community with information and updates.
“There’s no good choice,” Lampert said, “There’s no good choice when it comes to nuclear waste that will be poisonous for well over ten thousand years.”