The Pilgrim plant, a 680-megawatt boiling water reactor, began operation in 1972. Its current operating license expires on June 8, 2012. Entergy is seeking to re-license the plant for an additional 20 years. The majority of the NRC commission (4 to 1) voted to deny the watchdog group Pilgrim Watch’s most recent appeal to reopen a relicensing hearing to raise concerns about Pilgrim’s plans to contain radioactive material in the event of a disaster similar to the one at Fukushima.
To date, the NRC has approved life extensions for all 70 reactors that have submitted re-licensing application, despite still grappling with how to implement a series of new safety standards recommended by a federal task force earlier this year in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear disaster.
“Given the significance of that accident (at Fukushima) and the potential implications for the safety of our nuclear reactors, we should allow members of the public to obtain hearings on new contentions on emerging information,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko wrote in a dissenting opinion released Wednesday. Jaczko also criticized any efforts in attempt to silence any concerns related to Fukushima, believing such an approach to safety would “lead to inconsistent outcomes and, more importantly, unfairly limit public participation in these important safety matters.”
Jaczko has repeatedly publicly stated that “the greatest possible openness furthers the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s work on the protection of the environment and of public health and safety.”
On February 9, 2012 Jaczko cast the lone dissenting vote on plans to build the first new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years when the NRC voted 4-1 to allow Atlanta-based Southern Co to build and operate two new nuclear power reactors at its existing Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.
He cited safety concerns stemming from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, saying “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened”.
Carol Wightman, spokeswoman for Entergy Corp., Pilgrim’s owner, would not comment on Jaczko’s dissent but welcomed the commission’s action.
“Entergy is pleased with the decision regarding the late-filed appeals, and we look forward to the NRC decision on license renewal,” she said.
Attorney General Martha Coakley unsuccessfully tried to suspend the relicensing of Pilgrim in November 2011 until the after implications of the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster in Japan have been fully studied, being particularly concerned about the impact that a meltdown could have on the pool that contains spent nuclear fuel at Pilgrim.
On Wednesday, over 50 people packed public meeting in Hyannis last night to speak out against the proposed renewal request. Some of the local citizens voiced concerns about a 1990 Massachusetts Department of Health study that pointed out elevated levels of leukemia among residents living in the region around Pilgrim Power.
State Sen. Dan Wolf, who represents most all of Barnstable County, called for the shutdown of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant. Entergy Nuclear, the owner of the Pilgrim plant, declined an invitation to have a representative speak at the forum. “I think we have a responsibility to get the answers to questions and not accept the re-licensing of that plant until those questions are sufficiently and adequately answered,”
The senator also pointed out that Pilgrim Power has been online for 40 years and renewing its license would keep it in operation until it is 60. He then challenged the crowd to take a look at the electrical appliances and equipment in their own homes and find something that is “60-year-old technology.”