Lesley University intern, Nicole Cameron, writes about Pilgrim’s 2012 relicensing proceedings. Nicki is a 3rd year student at Lesley, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and will be focusing on the major milestones in Pilgrim’s operating life for the semester. She hopes to become an environmental lawyer and plans to go to Law School once she graduates from Lesley.

All power plants – gas, coal, and nuclear – have a finite life. According to the World Nuclear Association, most of today’s nuclear facilities were originally designed for 30-40 years of operations, but most of the facilities in the U.S. are expected to be granted license extensions for an additional 40-60 years.[1]

Construction of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (PNPS) started in 1967 and it went online in 1972. Like many other nuclear facilities, it was originally licensed to operate for 40 years by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The reason behind the 40-year design-life is because most of the facilities’ parts are not designed to be replaced. As a facility gets older, the margin of safety decreases[2]. Age-related degradation can lead to accidental leaks of radioactive wastes and increased risk of major accidents, reduced ability to safely withstand natural hazards such as seismic events, and/or other problems with structures, systems and components.[3]

PNPS was set to go offline in 2012. Yet, in 2006, Entergy Nuclear Generating Company (the owner of Pilgrim) applied for an additional 20 year license to operate PNPS until 2032. Leading up to the relicensing vote by the NRC, several petitions were filed that raised a number of serious concerns about PNPS’s operations.[4] These petitions were referred to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) by the NRC.

The watchdog group, Pilgrim Watch, filed four contentions with ASLB between Dec. 2010 and Nov. 2011. One of these petitions (Nov 2011) requested a hearing regarding the Inadequacy of an Environmental Report Post Fukushima, and a cost/benefit analysis that did not model aqueous discharges offsite. The contention reads, “Based on new and significant information from Fukushima, the Environmental Report is inadequate post Fukushima Daiichi. Entergy’s SAMA analysis ignores new and significant issues raised by Fukushima regarding the probability of both containment failure, and subsequent larger off-site consequences due, in part, to the need for flooding the reactor (vessel, containment, pool) with huge amounts of water in a severe accident, as at Fukushima.”[5]

According to Pilgrim Watch, PNPS’s license extension should have been postponed until the lessons learned from Fukushima are fixed and all the unresolved safety and environmental issues are fully examined in hearings before the ASLB. Since PNPS is a “carbon copy” of the reactor in the Fukushima accident, there is an increased probability of a severe accident.

At the time, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick expressed his concern in a letter to the NRC regarding the relicensing of PNPS. Governor Patrick requested that the NRC review all issues before making a decision on the license renewal for PNPS. Governor Patrick stated in the letter, “There are a number of serious concerns that have been raised regarding public safety, public health and the environment, and I request that the NRC thoroughly consider these matters prior to making any decision on Pilgrim’s license renewal application.”[6]

Not only was the Governor concerned, but U.S. Representative William Keating and U.S. Senator Edward Markey also sent letters to NRC’s Chairman asking for the renewal proceedings to come to a halt until all judicial appeals and administrative reviews were seen.[7]

Despite the outstanding issues and petitions that were before the ASLB, on May 25, 2012, the NRC voted 3-1 favor of Pilgrim’s relicense.

NRC Chairman Jazko voted against relicensing, stating, “I disapprove the issuance of the renewed license for the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station at this time. While I appreciate the need to have an appropriate procedure for bringing this process to completion, the current approach that my colleagues on the Commission support is unprecedented in license renewal proceedings and provides little basis for action.”[8]

The NRC dismissed the environmental, health, and public safety issues and granted PNPS another 20 years of operation.

[1] http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Power-Reactors/Nuclear-Power-Reactors/

[2] http://www.revistas.usp.br/eav/article/viewFile/10220/11831

[3] http://www.kns.org/jknsfile/v44/JK0440297.pdf

[4] Commonwealth of Mass. Legislature. 1997. Chapter 164. An Act Relative to Restructuring the Electric Utility Industry in the Commonwealth, Regulating the Provision of electricity and other services, and promoting enhanced consumer protections therein. [PDF]

[5] http://www.pilgrimwatch.org/relic.html

[6] http://www.capecodtoday.com/sites/capecodtoday.com/files/media/deval-patrick-letter-re-pilgrim-nuclear.pdf

[7] Town of Plymouth, Board of Appeals on the Zoning Bylaw. 1967. Notice of Special Permit for Boston Edison.

[8] Commission Voting Record. 2012. Renewal of full-power operating license for Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.