BOSTON (CN) - State and federal officials from Massachusetts are calling upon the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to publicly address growing concerns over the safety of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.
Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Sen. Edward Markey led the list of two dozen elected officials who signed a letter urging the NRC to release information about the power plant after an inadvertently forwarded internal email from inspectors described the facility’s staff as being “overwhelmed” due to a myriad of deteriorating conditions.
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is the only nuclear plant in the state. It has been in operation since 1972.
Federal regulators downgraded the plant's safety status to its least safe category in September 2015, based on recurring safety issues at the plant. In October 2015, the Entergy Corp., which owns and operates the plant, announced that it will shut down the facility by June 2019 citing low energy prices, reduced revenues and increased operational costs.
Despite those plans, the letter from the public officials says the NRC has an obligation to address the current and past operation of the plant and to address growing public concerns about it.
“The public’s serious questions about the safety of this plant and risks it poses to the environment, workers and residents need to be answered immediately,” the letter says.
It goes on to suggest the agency hold a public meeting to discuss the cause of the plant’s most recent shutdown, including how the leaks in three of its eight main steam-isolation valves were discovered, why they were not discovered earlier, and what steps have been taken to inspect the integrity of the remaining steam isolation valves.
These valves are used to prevent a leak of radioactivity into the environment during a nuclear accident.
In light of the documented ongoing safety issues at the plant, the letter also calls on the NRC to deny Entergy’s request for an exemption from new agency requirements for safety upgrades adopted in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
In a December 2016 letter to the Town of Plymouth, the NRC's regional administrator, Daniel Dorman, tried to calm community concerns by explaining that the accidentally released internal document did not reflect the agency's final assessment of the plant, but was merely an early appraisal made during the ongoing inspection.
“Until the inspection has been completed and the results fully assessed, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to predict to what extent these observations factor into our final determinations on Entergy’s progress in improving the plant’s performance,” Dorman wrote. “It is, however, understandable that someone not familiar with the process and specifics of the inspection could easily read this email and take the information out of context and inappropriately extrapolate it.”
Dorman also wrote that once the inspection was completed in January, the NRC would come before the Town of Plymouth to discuss the results.