Pilgrim Decommissioning: What’s Next?

On October 13, 2015, Pilgrim’s owner, Entergy, announced that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station would close no later than June 2019.


According to Entergy, the short answer is finances. Pilgrim is no longer profitable and hasn’t been for some time. The longer answer is that years of successful citizen pressure caused more government oversight and highlighted poor management practices and problems related to age-related degradation, making the decision inevitable. On Sept. 2, 2015, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) downgraded Pilgrim’s performance rating to a “Category IV” based on numerous forced shutdowns and equipment failures (most recently caused by the winter storm nicknamed “Juno” in January 2015). This rating is just one step below mandatory shutdown by federal regulators. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was also pressed hard by our concerns and was prepared to issue a new, long-overdue Clean Water Act NPDES permit, which would have required expensive upgrades and an extensive legal process. In view of the announcement, EPA has backed away from its schedule for permit renewal since Pilgrim will likely close before the final permit would take effect.


Entergy used the end of June 2019 because the company is under contractual obligation to provide energy to ISO-New England (the grid) until that date. If they break it, there are penalties. Whether Pilgrim closes earlier than June 2019 is based on a variety of factors:

  1. Whether Entergy decides to refuel Pilgrim in 2017 (at a cost of about $10 million)
  2. Whether it can find a replacement supplier (or multiple suppliers) to fulfill its contractual obligation with ISO-New England
  3. Whether it will want to continue paying for the added NRC oversight due to its Category IV rating and refuel activities.

Vermont Yankee – another Entergy plant – did not to go through with its spring 2015 refueling, which shut the plant down in Dec. 2014, earlier than originally scheduled. If Pilgrim can find replacement suppliers, there could be a similar scenario at Pilgrim — meaning Entergy could close it down as early as Dec. 2016. We will know the exact closing date for Pilgrim late spring/early summer 2016.

The Good News

After closure, the health of Cape Cod Bay will begin to improve after shut down, as the daily intake and discharge of 500 million gallons of seawater will be drastically reduced to about 3 million gallons per day until cooling activities completely cease for Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool (likely 5-10 years post closure).

Pilgrim will also stop producing high-level nuclear waste as a byproduct, hence ending its demand for uranium that causes widespread drinking water, air, and soil contamination along the supply chain from mining to enrichment and processing.

No Rest for the Weary…

It is critical that we continue to monitor environmental impacts and risks during this ending period.


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) allows Entergy to choose a scenario for decommissioning and site cleanup. One option is long-term SAFSTOR, a process that would allow Entergy set aside Pilgrim for up to 60 years before decommissioning and cleanup is completed. The 60-year time frame is chosen since it corresponds to 10 half-lives for cobalt-60, one of the more common radioactive isotopes left behind at a facility. At 60 years, cobalt-60 reportedly decays to background levels. Entergy may take down some non-essential buildings, etc. before buttoning it up for the 60 years.

If the NRC allows Entergy to choose long-term SAFSTOR, groundwater and soil contamination might not be addressed for 60 years. Contamination currently migrates toward Cape Cod Bay and it will continue to do so, particularly as climate change causes sea level and ground water levels to rise, more intense storms, and more precipitation and flooding on the site. This is particularly important since we know tritium and other radionuclides have been leaking into the groundwater and soils on the site since at least 2007.

We will urge the NRC not to allow cleanup be deferred for 60 years because it would lead to further leaching of contaminants into Cape Cod Bay over time. The site needs to be cleaned up promptly and fully, within a decade of closure. Dilution is not the solution!

Nuclear Waste

Technically decommissioning does not include cleanup of non-radioactive contaminants nor the management of nuclear waste. Learn more about what we’re doing to protect Cape Cod Bay and the regional environment from risks associated with nuclear waste storage at Pilgrim →

Climate Change

Learn more about climate change impacts →

State Decommissioning Panel

In 2016, the Commonwealth established a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP). Learn more about NDCAP has been up to →

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