NRC poised to allow Pilgrim license transfer

Despite objections from activist group and commonwealth.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has indicated it will accept a license transfer between Entergy and Holtec International. - Photo courtesy Entergy

With Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station shut down and slated for decommissioning, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has indicated it will accept a license transfer from the present owner, Louisiana-based Entergy Corp., to Holtec International, a New Jersey company. In legal terms, the transfer involves subsidiaries of both companies. 

This has been one of the many gripes Mary Lampert, head of Pilgrim Watch, a watchdog group for the Plymouth plant, has had with the process. Lampert has argued that if either company should suffer a radiological accident, or in Holtec’s case should it get the license and later leave behind radioactive material that requires a costly second cleanup, the core corporations will be shielded from paying associated costs. Lampert has argued that conversely, whichever of these corporations has the license and can tap the $1 billion decommissioning trust fund linked to it, will reap hundreds of millions that will pass through the subsidiary to the parent corporation and be out of reach. Should the trust fund be exhausted and the subsidiary file for bankruptcy, any remaining costs would fall on Massachusetts taxpayers, she noted. 

Both Pilgrim Watch and the commonwealth through Attorney General Maura Healy’s office have sought a hearing with the NRC to address a number of concerns they have with the license transfer. Lampert told The Times that in her opinion, the NRC hasn’t taken into consideration Pilgrim Watch’s or the state’s qualms. “One could say we’re in the first inning, and it looks like they’re calling the game,” she said.

A hearing may not be out of the question, however. 

“The presidentially appointed commission that oversees the NRC is still considering the hearing requests,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheenan emailed. “However, the license transfer review and the adjudicatory process by which the hearing requests are evaluated are separate. That is why there was nothing that precluded the NRC staff from issuing a decision on the license transfer application while the requests for a hearing are still under review.”

Healey’s office recently expressed displeasure with the NRC’s announcement the transfer is likely to move forward. 

“Our office is disappointed in this NRC staff decision, and is reviewing all available options to protect our residents and the interests of our state,” Healey spokeswoman Jillian Fennimore wrote. “We remain deeply concerned that this deal lacks sufficient funding to handle this closure and manage spent fuel on site, and will continue to push for adequate protections to ensure that Pilgrim is decommissioned safely.”

In a statement released yesterday, the NRC said it issued a Notice of Significant Licensing Action even though Massachusetts and Pilgrim Watch have requested a hearing. 

“The NRC staff has completed its review of the Pilgrim license transfer application and is following its normal process for such proposals. As such, there is nothing that precludes the NRC staff from issuing a decision on the application while the requests for a hearing are still under consideration.”

The NRC went on to state it found Holtec’s resume satisfactory: “The NRC staff has concluded that Holtec and HDI [Holtec Decommissioning International] are financially and technically qualified to own the Pilgrim nuclear power plant and carry out the decommissioning of the facility. Prior to reaching this decision, the NRC staff carefully reviewed Holtec and HDI’s technical and financial qualifications; the adequacy of the plant’s decommissioning trust fund; and the companies’ ability to obtain the funds necessary to cover the cost of spent nuclear fuel management and on-site spent fuel storage until it is removed. The license transfer review and the adjudicatory process by which the hearing requests are considered are separate.”

The release also indicated the license could be modified: “The NRC staff’s decision does not preclude Commission actions that may require the modification of the conditions for the license transfer. Any impacts will be assessed following the completion of the adjudicatory process.”

Lampert was skeptical about modifications to the transfer, and said when and if the license is passed to Holtec, it was “highly unlikely” the NRC would tinker with the stipulations of the license. Lampert said she holds out hope the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will issue more stringent regulations on the acceptable amount of radioactivity in soil. This would help ensure a second cleanup of the Pilgrim site isn’t necessary. At present, she said, regulations about permissible levels of soil radiation are antiquated. 

In a joint statement released by Entergy spokesman Patrick O’Brien and Holtec spokesman Joe Delmar, the companies expressed satisfaction with the NRC’s decision. 

“We are pleased with the commission’s vote. Entergy and Holtec believe that the transfer of Pilgrim to Holtec for prompt decommissioning is in the best interests of the town of PIymouth and surrounding communities, the nearly 270 people from the region who work at Pilgrim, and the Commonwealth,” the spokesmen wrote. “We are confident that the license transfer application demonstrated that Holtec possesses the technical and financial qualifications required to safely decommission Pilgrim. We look forward to completing the transaction if regulatory approval is obtained.”

11 COMMENTS

  1. no problem– nothing to see here –we don’t need any stupit liberal regulations or oversights on this one– no possibility of some sort of accident that will make Martha’s vineyard , Boston and everything in between uninhabitable–after all, that kind of stuff only happens every 20 years or so…But let’s make sure that there is no way a windmill in the open ocean will ever fall over in a 50,000 year storm and wind up lying on the bottom of the ocean, like the thousands of ship wrecks that are de facto man made reefs that marine life flourishes around.

  2. Andrew
    Kyshtym (September 29, 1957) 200 dead, but toll is likely much higher. Currently uninhabitable nature preserve
    Windscale (October 10, 1957) unknown number of cancer deaths but likely around 250 — area is habitable , but I wouldn’t drink milk from the area.
    Three Mile Island (March 28, 1979) partial meltdown — came very close to full meltdown. Abnormally high rates of cancer and birth defects in the area.
    Chernobyl (April 26, 1986) 32 immediate deaths– current death toll estimated in the thousands and rising. Approximately 70,000 with long term health effects. The esophagus enclosing the plant is widely believed by structural engineers to be in danger of collapse
    Fukushima, Japan, March 2011—Three reactors melted down. Zero immediate deaths due to luck of the wind open transparency and immediate action by the Japanese government. . Massive contamination of ocean water– 500,000 evacuated, billions of dollars in economic loss, hundreds of square miles of uninhabitable land . Millions of dollars in ongoing cost.
    And lets not forget
    Enrico Fermi Unit 1 Frenchtown Charter Township, Michigan, USA, October 5, 1966
    SL-1 Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA, January 3, 1961—Killed everyone on duty .
    These are the ones we know about.
    7 serious accidents in 62 years. That’s one every 7 years– Dang, i was wrong again when I said every 20 years or so.
    Add to it the ongoing cost to protect spent fuel, or decommissioning cost which range into the billions of dollars. We still have nuclear reactors from sunken ships sitting on the bottom of the ocean, as well as the nuclear wast that was dumped into it for decades by various countries.
    No, Andrew– nuclear plants are not “very safe”

    • Dondondon. All hyperbole on your part. Elevated radioactivity in Fukushima but not enough to cause any problems. Do the research. I could speak to each one of your examples and refute but it is a waste of time. You want alarmism not real facts. France is using nuclear energy safely.

      • Andrew–
        I have a reputable source– How about you ?
        https://www.history.com/news/historys-worst-nuclear-disasters
        you asked ” Which places dondondon where uninhabitable except Chernobyl?”
        my reply noted 3 places–Kyshtym, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.
        That’s 3 places where land is uninhabitable. Over 60 years, that’s an average of one uninhabitable piece of real estate every 20 years.. read my original comment
        Great that you think levels of radiation are “not a problem” around Fukushima.
        While levels there have been reduced because the government has cleared the radioactive debris ( no mention of where it went) of thousands of houses and about 100 miles of vegetation , they are now only cautiously allowing people back in.
        https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/five-years-after-meltdown-it-safe-live-near-fukushima
        . Should we rewrite history to fit your narrative ?
        Great about France– How are the other 30 countries with nuclear reactors doing ?

  3. Er, areas around the Fukushima plant had toxic levels of radiation. Cancer rates among exposed victims are significantly higher than the average for Japan, and there are still whole towns left vacant due to evacuation orders from radioactivity…

    Nuclear plants ARE safe, and we should be building A LOT of them. They are cleaner than fossil fuels and absurdly efficient. But ignoring maintenance and proper decommissioning as we have at Pilgrim, or allowing corporations to play roulette with licenses and dodge responsibility, is why nuclear gets a bad name.

    Building a very large number of very small scale nuclear plants could bring energy prices to zero and help the environment at the same time.

      • “small scale nuclear plants could bring energy prices to zero” ?

        Small modular reactors (SMRs) are designed to be built in one location and transported to an already pre-constructed facility. This drastically cuts construction costs, increases facility security and since they are self-contained systems, containment efficiency and safety is significantly higher. In short: modern, cheaper and safer.

        What I am suggesting is that the government contract out building the initial factory, and transporting the SMRs to locations all over the country. Use the economy of scale to build X number of nuclear plants, where X is whatever number is necessary to make metering usage cost-inefficient. Operate the powerplants at cost, which would effectively be the operation, maintenance, and security. Contracting out work to private enterprise is fine (ideal? competition does produce higher quality results) so long as profit margins are not allowed to grow at citizen expense unopposed.

        But Chilmark, you might say, isn’t that just subsidizing the energy industry?! Why yes, yes it is. That’s what our government does; it chooses winners and losers. Ideally, it chooses winners that provide the most upside for most citizens while not trampling on the rights of anyone. In fact, we already do this to the tune of tens of billions of dollars per year for the energy industry, this is just choosing a different winner with more upside.

    • chilmark 7 — not sure what your comment is about ? is your first paragraph a quote ? perhaps you are acknowledging the dangers but justifying them because they may be better than anything else ? Please clarify.

      • Don, my first comment is not a quote. Moderation took a long time to allow my comment to be posted. It was in reply to Andrew who said “Which places dondondon where uninhabitable except Chernobyl? Fukushima killed no one, the tsunami caused damage. Nuclear plants are very safe.”

        And you hit the nail on the head of my thoughts on the subject: There are dangers, terrible risks, but with proper handling, they are justified. See my above post, in which I detail what I believe is a possibility for an energy independent future in the United States. The DOE is FINALLY making moves toward exploring this, while China and India have been moving toward this with significantly fewer regulatory hurdles.

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