To the Editor:
Regarding The MV Times article of June 1 on the Pilgrim nuclear reactor (“45-year-old Pilgrim Station slated to shutter”), John Christenson is right on target to signal that wet fuel-rod storage is the main risk. Having just refueled the reactor last month in a plant that is in a safety category 4 out of 5, where 5 is automatic shutdown, this aging Fukushima design clone is at great risk as an ongoing operation as well.
Along with others from the Vineyard, I attended a hearing in Plymouth this spring with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the senior management of Pilgrim, owned by Entergy. Every public official who commented, from Senator Warren, Senator Markey, Maura Healey, to Julian Cyr, Dylan Fernandes, and other Cape representatives all urged immediate closure of the plant based on safety concerns. These pleas fell on the deaf ears of the NRC, who as industry regulators dance with their regulated dance-card partners.
As was noted, Pilgrim’s wet fuel-rod pool was designed to hold 880 used but still radioactive fuel rods. It now holds nearly 3,000, in conditions where the containment structures are corroding and deteriorating. Pilgrim’s owner, Entergy, states that they have 8 dry casks of 100 rods each, bringing the wet and dry collection to 3,800 rods. If we arrive at the plant closure date of 2019 without operational catastrophe, these rods represent a long-term danger similar to Fukushima. And Pilgrim’s location, like Fukushima, lies exposed to the climate change risks of the entire North Atlantic system. First-line emergency measures such as potassium iodide or prussian Blue are temporary; they do not cure long-term exposure to radiation, such as would likely occur in a fuel-rod containment reaction. Part of the problem with dealing with the fuel rods is money. Entergy has some $900 million in federally controlled decommissioning funds, but experts note the cost will likely exceed $1.4 billion. The fear is that funding shortfalls in a marketplace where cheap natural gas is undercutting nuclear generation profits will cause Entergy to cut corners on cleanup and fuel-rod removal, and also seek exemption from the NRC on safety regulations.
Our only recourse in this matter, apart from awareness and citizen support of our local representatives, is direct appeal to Governor Baker. He alone has the authority to close Pilgrim and mandate safe storage of spent fuel rods. And to the editor of this newspaper, please continue to inform on this important story.