Entergy, the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, has declared that it will cease operations by June 2019. But allowing Pilgrim to continue operating for another four years without fixing the dangerous conditions identified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is much too risky and completely irresponsible. On November 3rd, the voters of Newton will have a say about the shutdown of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, MA, 38 miles from Newton. Now, 38 miles might feel like a nice safe distance, but the NRC recommended that Americans in Japan during the Fukushima nuclear disaster should immediately evacuate from a 50-mile zone around the nuclear plant.
If you’ve been following Pilgrim’s evolving story in the Boston Globe, you know that things are deteriorating very quickly. In 2013, the NRC downgraded Pilgrim to be one of the 9 least safe in the country, in 2014 to be one of the 5 least safe, and in September of this year it rated Pilgrim to be the least safe in the country, tied with two other plants that are also owned by Entergy.
The primary reason for the repeated NRC downgrades is the frequency of the emergency shutdowns, called SCRAMS, whose root causes have still not been determined over these last three years. The scary horror stories continue:
a) The switchyard which connects Pilgrim to the external power grid to run the all-important cooling system has had problems for years, and failed again during the record-setting snowstorm of Jan. 27, 2015. The backup diesel generator for some of the reactor instrumentation and controls did not start, and information about the water level in the reactor was lost, as was the ability to operate safety relief valves.
b) In 1992, the NRC issued an order to address the critical problem that a fire in the control room could result in a loss of control of the reactor. Recently it was discovered that Entergy had done nothing to address this problem, and that the NRC had not followed up. The NRC explained that it “has lots of things to do.”
c) The meteorological backup tower has been inoperable for the last three years, during which the primary tower has had 8 outages, leaving the plant without information about wind speed and direction in case of a release of nuclear radiation. How could they direct people in which direction to go to escape from the radiation without knowing which way the wind is blowing?
All these things take money: fixing the switchyard, building a secondary external control room, and fixing the backup meteorological tower. But Entergy has chosen not to spend that money, and instead, it now hopes to avoid all those expenses by saying that it will shut down within the next 4 years. That is very dangerous, and completely unacceptable.
And that is why I recommend to the voters of Newton to vote YES on urging Gov. Baker to get the NRC to immediately withdraw the operating license for Pilgrim. The reactor could shut down that very day. This vote is also backed by Green Newton, Mass. Sierra Club, Newton Democratic City Committee, and Mass. Peace Action. The dangers are just too great.