PLYMOUTH – When the Zoning Board of Appeals ruled last year that Entergy – the owners of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station – didn’t need a special permit to begin construction of a dry cask storage facility on the plant’s Manomet grounds, 18 residents appealed that decision to the state’s Land Court.
More than a year later, after a series of motions, the case is proceeding.
Most recently, the court issued an order “allowing in part and denying in part” Entergy’s motion to dismiss the entire case by summary judgment “for lack of standing.”
The court determined that 11 of the 18 plaintiffs originally named in the case – those residing within two miles of the plant – had standing based on the loss of property value that will result from the construction of the storage facility and the continued operation of the plant.”
Because of that ruling, the court is now expected to hear arguments on the merits of the case – whether existing regulations require that Entergy should have obtained a special permit in the first place.
Meanwhile, Entergy has moved ahead at its own risk. It has spent a considerable sum on construction of the dry cask storage project.
In the past few weeks Entergy has even notified the presiding judge – as part of the court’s conditions – that it could begin transferring nuclear waste from the spent fuel pool to dry cask storage units within the next 90 days.
If Entergy were to lose the case and the conditions originally under discussion by the plaintiffs and others were made part of a special permit, it could face very expensive modifications to its dry cask storage project.
Asked to comment on the court’s ruling and whether it is taking a $140 million risk (the initial cost estimate for the site work and concrete pad required for dry cask storage), Entergy officials expressed confidence in the ultimate decision of the courts.
“Entergy is currently finalizing construction of elements of the fuel transfer facility at Pilgrim as well as performing dry runs to demonstrate proficiency to our federal regulator,” Entergy Corporation’s Patricia Kakridas told the Old Colony. “We expect to proceed as planned on schedule later this year after final approvals are received.”
Speaking for the plaintiffs, Earthrise Advisory Council member Meg Sheehan interpreted Entergy’s actions as “further reflection of the attitude that they can do whatever the want. “I would say that since the beginning Entergy has flouted the town laws,” Sheehan added, “moving ahead without any permits whatsoever, and only obtaining a building permit when a citizen’s group raised the issue.”
If the plaintiffs win in court, Sheehan said, they would look to see the plans go back to the drawing board. “They would have to apply for a special permit, there would be a public hearing on that application, and the public could ask for certain conditions to be imposed,” she said.
Sheehan referenced the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has established a number of conditions it says all dry cask storage facilities should include: a covering or roof over the units, to protect them from snow and other weather conditions and ensure the free circulation of air; the real-time monitoring of radiation levels; a shield that would protect the units from terrorist attacks; and dispersal of the units to eliminate what Sheehan referred to as “candlepin bowling for terrorists.”
Sheehan also noted that the final location of the units should take into consideration climate change and its possibly effect on sea level.
Kakridas didn’t seem worried.
“Dry cask storage is the state of the art solution for the interim-term storage of spent nuclear fuel until the federal government fulfills its obligation to provide a permanent repository,” Kakridas said. “It has been safely implemented at dozens of other plants and regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We are confident that the process of dry storage of used fuel will ultimately proceed at Pilgrim.”
– Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.