NRC approves license transfer for Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant to Holtec

Despite appeals for a delay by Governor and Attorney General's office.

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Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. — Courtesy Entergy Corp.

In a press release received Friday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced their Aug. 22 approval of the transfer of the license for the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station from Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc., to Holtec International (as owner) and Holtec Decommissioning International, as decommissioning operator.

The approval comes despite the appeals for delay by Governor Charlie Baker, the Attorney General’s office, and state representatives from the Cape and Islands.

On August 21, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office had submitted a letter to the NRC, objecting to the license transfer, stating “the Commonwealth has serious concerns about Holtec’s financial and technical capacity to complete the work at Pilgrim.” The letter, written by Massachusetts Senior Appellate Counsel Seth Scholfield and Assistant Attorney General Joseph Dorfler, sought to have the NRC withhold issuance of the license transfer until NRC staff addressed issues the state has raised, and until the commonwealth had the opportunity to contest the transfer “in a full hearing before the Commission.”

The appeal from the AG was supported in a letter, dated Aug. 22 and sent to The Times, by Senator Julian Cyr and Rep. Dylan Fernandes. Cyr and Fernandes, along with other Cape and Islands representatives, called on the Commission to set a hearing date and to “postpone any decision on granting a license to Holtec LLC until that hearing and further vetting of Holtec LLC occurs. The health and safety of the residents of our Commonwealth deserve nothing less.”

Schofield and Dorfler wrote that “procedural irregularities and disparate treatment of the Commonwealth during the consultation process” are among the reason it wants the brakes applied.

The AG’s office has said it has essentially been given “the cold shoulder” by the NRC.

As an example of how Massachusetts alleges it has been treated, Schofield and Dorfler wrote that NRC staff reached out for a meeting with state officials about the license transfer and exemptions Holtec wanted. The meeting was set for 1:30 pm on August 13. About 20 minutes before the meeting, state officials learned NRC staff had already sent notice they intended to approve the license transfer and exceptions that go with it.

Massachusetts also alleges the NCR may have pulled a duplicitous move.

“Even though the NRC Staff had not yet consulted with the Commonwealth on that intended action,” the state’s attorneys wrote, “the Notification also indicated wrongly that NRC Staff had already notified the Commonwealth of the proposed actions. During the “consultation” call that followed the Notification’s filing in the docket, the NRC Staff initially declined even to describe the contents of the just filed public Notification and refused to provide any details regarding what the anticipated approval Order would say or the findings underlying it in the anticipated [Safety Evaluation Report].”

NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci did not immediately reply to an email from The Times seeking comment on the letter from Healy’s office.

Senator Julian Cyr, who represents the Cape and Islands, said in a phone conversation with Time Times: “At the least, this decision is disappointing and alarming. We are entering an unprecedented time regarding decommissioning of power plants. There has never been a time when the NRC has decommissioned more than a few plants. There has been no agreement between the commonwealth and Holtec regarding public health and how the decommissioning of this plant will be managed. We want to strengthen the state’s regulatory hold over decommissioning of these facilities. The NRC needs to be a partner to the commonwealth. We genuinely question whether Massachusetts is being treated fairly by the NRC.”

Since November of 2018, Holtec International has been on deck to take over the license for Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station from Entergy Corp. and then begin the process of decommissioning the plant. A $1 billion trust fund has accrued for the decommissioning of the plant. Holtec would have access to that money to fund the decommissioning, which in many respects is a nuclear clean up.

Rich Saltzberg and Lucas Thors contributed to this report.