This could be Indian Point and may well be what our future holds.
Holtec has purchased the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant for decommissioning and many in the community are concerned about the poor quality of the dry casks.
Storage of spent nuclear fuel a matter of public safety
In the next few weeks, voters across the Cape will have the opportunity to express concerns regarding the storage of high-level radioactive waste at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth. A nonbinding public advisory question asks voters to call on Gov. Baker and the state Legislature to employ all means to ensure that dangerous nuclear fuel is secured in better quality dry casks, and that the spent fuel pool and dry casks are protected with heightened security to protect the health, welfare and economic interests of the town.
In June 2019, Entergy finally closed Pilgrim, which was a money loser for its shareholders. Reactor buildings, property and nuclear waste were sold to Holtec Decommissioning International LLC. While decommissioning has begun, safety and financial preconditions needed for a thorough and responsible cleanup of this highly contaminated site have not been sufficiently addressed. The tons of dangerous high-level nuclear waste stored in Plymouth are an existential threat to our communities and the environment.
We deserve better protection. Reactor decommissioning and waste storage must be implemented and managed with the best science and technology available. However, Holtec’s bottom line is being protected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This national crisis is underscored by the false promise of interim waste storage in New Mexico and Yucca Mountain. The NRC has actually concluded that nuclear waste could remain in Plymouth indefinitely.
Long-term safety planning must be in place first. However, that is not the case. Serious safety and security gaps that could cause potential contamination and displacement of 5 million people within a 50-mile radius and beyond command laser focus on public and environmental health and safety. Fortunately, Holtec’s financial ability to complete the decommissioning job responsibly and safely is being challenged by Attorney General Maura Healey.
Hundreds of tons of highly radioactive waste has accumulated at Pilgrim and is stored in a degrading spent fuel pool and deficient dry casks. Both present unique safety challenges. The spent fuel pool holds over 2,000 spent fuel assemblies in the unprotected attic of the reactor building. It will take a few years for Holtec to move all the fuel to dry casks.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and Princeton colleagues determined that a fire at the Pilgrim pool could contaminate an area from Manhattan to Nova Scotia. During a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel meeting in January, Paul M. Blanch, who has more than 40 years of nuclear safety and regulatory experience, called into question the integrity of the design and safety of Holtec’s casks and the NRC’s oversight of the Pilgrim decommissioning.
Existing “No Trespassing” signs on site are just a suggestion to keep out the most timid. On multiple occasions, Cape Downwinders members have walked beyond those signs to line-of-sight of the dry casks and spent fuel pool side of the property without being challenged by Pilgrim security. Hardened on-site storage must include storage in a protected building with real 24/7 security.
Federal regulators fail to protect the public by approving exemptions for emergency planning, security and radiation monitoring. NRC Commissioner Jeff Baran, citing critical issues of concern, voted against the NRC exemption for off-site emergency planning at Pilgrim. Nonetheless, as of April 1, Holtec no longer is required to financially support off-site emergency planning.
Here on Cape Cod, there still is no evacuation plan — no escape from the Cape— in the event of a radiological accident. Current plans call for relocating residents after contamination. Where? Who knows? We remain acceptable collateral damage for the profits of Holtec. This is unacceptable!
The most serious risk now is Holtec and NRC negligence. We demand the best technology currently available for secure and protected onsite storage of nuclear waste. Send a message that safety is a human right. Vote yes on this ballot or warrant initiative in your hometown to protect our communities!
By Diane Turco