On May 31, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station shut down at 5:28 pm, ending electrical generation from a General Electric Mark 1 boiling-water reactor that began during the Nixon administration. Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that owns Pilgrim, intends to sell the station to New Jersey-based Holtec International. At a press conference held a few days prior to the shutdown, Entergy spokesman Patrick O’Brien said Holtec aims to decommission the station in eight years, as opposed to the 60 years Entergy would take to do the task.
Longtime Pilgrim critic Mary Lampert, founder of Pilgrim Watch, told The Times the shutdown of the reactor hasn’t allayed her concerns about the station. The security of the concrete-over-steel casks is one of the dozens of liabilities Lampert said remain at the station as it crosses into the decommissioning phase. The massive vessels, Holtec HI-STORM 100 spent fuel storage casks, are meant to store fuel assemblies once they’ve cooled sufficiently underwater in the station’s spent fuel pool. The new outside pad where they will be placed is observable from Rocky Hill Road, a public way, according to Lampert. Lampert said she would like to see an earthen berm or hardened building built to protect against line of sight attacks by bad actors.
Another longtime critic of Pilgrim, Cape Downwinders co-founder Diane Turco, said Pilgrim security is unacceptably lax at the station. She said she recently was able to wander onto station property and then walk up to the casks without anyone intervening. Only when she went looking for security personnel did they realize she was there, she said. Lampert said it’s her understanding Entergy plans to monitor the casks every few days with a handheld geiger counter to check for leaks.
“Hello, this is 2019. You should have real time monitoring on each [cask] for radiation, heat, and helium,” she said.
Entergy senior government affairs manager for decommissioning Joe Lynch said casks are flooded with helium as part of the loading process — this is why Lampert thinks traces of helium would be indicative of a leak. Lynch told the press on May 28 that Entergy intends to reduce the emergency planning zone around Pilgrim to the property boundary of the station in March of 2020 and by the same time, cease providing emergency planning funds to the commonwealth and nearby communities. Both Lampert and Turco think it’s premature to shrink the planning zone and cut emergency planning funds. In an email to The Times, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokesman Neil Sheenan said those changes are still being reviewed by the NRC, as is the license transfer application between Entergy and Holtec.