At its meeting on January 19, 2016, the Plymouth Board of Selectmen formally announced its “Entergy Working Group” (EWG). The Board appointed the EWG to address economic impacts to the Town from Entergy’s decision to close its Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station no later than June 2019. Pilgrim has operated since 1972.
The Entergy Working Group members include the town’s Economic Development Director Jessica Casey, politicians and members of the business community. Read the full list of members. Notably absent from the EWG was a seat at the table for public interest groups that have been working tirelessly for years to address the economic impacts, public health, safety, and environmental issues surrounding Pilgrim. These include Pilgrim Watch, Concerned Neighbors of Pilgrim, Pilgrim Coalition, Cape Cod Bay Watch, and more.
At the Jan. 19, 2016 meeting, the Board unanimously approved the request from the EWG for authority to work on the Town’s behalf on 3 matters:
- Coordinate engagement with stakeholders and partners, coordinate representatives to prepare for negotiations, identify resources, and become experts on decommissioning.
- Write letters from the Town to government agencies such as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Department of Energy (DOE), subject to Board approval.
- Obtain the assistance of the Town’s existing Nuclear Matters Committee.
In voting, some Board members including Mr. Malaguti and Mr. Page said they viewed the vote as part of a larger future effort that should be “transparent” and involve many stakeholders.
The EWG’s Ms. Casey described the group’s work to date as meeting with politicians in Washington, D.C., meeting with the National Institute for Nuclear Communities, and talking to Entergy and the NRC. Surprisingly, the EWG’s work to date excluded the Town’s own Nuclear Matters Committee. This was made clear by the remarks of Chair, Richard Rothstein, who said “this was the first he had heard” about the Working Group’s efforts. Nor did the Working Group reach out to any of the many community groups to seek public input.
During the meeting, Meg Sheehan, Plymouth native and a lawyer working with citizen groups, applauded the Board for forming the group. But she said she “strenuously disagreed” with the EWG’s position that Plymouth has little authority over most issues surrounding Pilgrim’s closure and decommissioning.
As an example of the Town’s power over what happens at Pilgrim, Ms. Sheehan explained that Plymouth has zoning authority over nuclear waste storage operations currently underway at Pilgrim. She said Pilgrim exists in Plymouth only because, in 1967, the Zoning Board issued a special permit under the zoning law for Boston Edison to build and operate a nuclear power station.
Sheehan said that instead of using its zoning authority, the Town is opposing efforts by seven local residents to get Entergy to obtain the proper Town zoning permit for the long-term “dry cask” nuclear waste storage facility at Pilgrim. These local residents live within 2 miles of Pilgrim and are long-standing members of the community. They include a firefighter (retired), school nurse, educator, civic association activist, grandmother, and successful entrepreneur. If the Town supported the plaintiffs instead of paying Town Counsel to fight them, it would be more likely that the Court would order Entergy to get a special permit from the ZBA. This would give the Town say over certain aspects of nuclear waste storage at Pilgrim. It would also provide an avenue for public input via a public hearing. Read more: Entergy wants to escape Plymouth zoning laws →
Sheehan also told the Board that the Town should also take a position on Entergy’s occupation of 1-mile of public tidelands along the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay for the nuclear “exclusion zone” that has to be maintained as long as Entergy’s nuclear waste remains onsite – which will likely be decades or hundreds of years. Local citizens are doing all the work here again, pursuing a legal appeal since March 2015. This “exclusion zone” was once the location of a thriving local fishing industry and a recreational resource for the Town. Not only is it off limits, but the natural resources have also been destroyed by Pilgrim’s outdated “once through cooling water” system. Ms. Sheehan also said the Town should focus on the fact that 537 acres around Pilgrim will be “off limits” to the public as long as Entergy’s high-level nuclear waste (spent fuel) is stored in dry casks at Pilgrim.
As Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch also told the Board, the NRC gives 60 years for decommissioning to be completed, meaning cleanup of the site could potentially be postponed for many decades.
Entergy’s decision to close Pilgrim in order to save its corporate bottom line raises many issues for the community. It is a positive sign that the Town of Plymouth has convened the EWG and is looking at economic impacts. There are many additional issues, however, that should be addressed and the Town should use every resource in its toolbox. This includes many laws and policies that the EWG has simply ignored.
The public should not be lulled into thinking Washington D.C. is going to solve Plymouth’s nuclear waste problems. That is not going to happen — certainly not between now and when Pilgrim closes. Town officials should not try to pass the buck to “the feds,” but need to use their own authority to address Pilgrim’s decommissioning and nuclear waste issues NOW — before it’s too late.
At the Jan. 19th meeting, public interest groups said they look forward to providing input to the EWG through an open and transparent public process.