Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Senator Wolf calls on the NRC to guarantee "full satisfaction and public confidence" before re-licensing Pilgrim

Cape and Islands State Senator Dan Wolf (D-Harwich) today issued a formal call for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to address "to full satisfaction and public confidence" concerns about the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, or conclude that the 40-year-old plant should not be relicensed.

  • Spent fuel rod storage, evacuation and emergency response, and aging technology, "these concerns have not been adequately addressed." - Sen. Wolf.

In a letter to Gregory Jaczko, Chairman of the NRC, and Steven Chu, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, Wolf focused on three areas of greatest concern: Spent fuel rod storage, evacuation and emergency response, and aging technology.

  • "My position is that to date, these concerns have not been adequately addressed," said Wolf. "If they are, I would support re-licensing the plant. If not, I urge you not to re-license Pilgrim."

3,000 highly radioactive spent rods stored
in a facility designed for 880

At present, there are more than 3,000 highly radioactive spent fuel rods stored at the site on Cape Cod Bay a few miles north of the Sagamore bridge in a water-filled tank on the upper floor of the reactor building. "Engineers designed this wet storage facility to hold 880 spent fuel rods 40 years ago," noted Wolf. "Why - from a safety point of view, not due to expediency or political necessity - should we allow so much more radioactive volume in the same aging tank?"

  • "An orderly and timely evacuation could well be unrealistic given a year-round population of more than 200,000 people, and an additional 500,000 summer residents and visitors."

Evacuation and emergency response is of particular importance for the Cape and Islands, he continued, given the unique geographic challenges of a narrow peninsula and two bridges crossing the Cape Cod Canal. "An orderly and timely evacuation could well be unrealistic given a year-round population of more than 200,000 people, and an additional 500,000 summer residents and visitors," said Wolf. "What's worse, the most heavily trafficked routes between Boston and Cape Cod carry travelers through Plymouth and very close to the reactor."

Aging technology also was highlighted. "Pilgrim was designed with the best technology that existed more than 40 years ago," Wolf noted. "There is universal understanding that such technology no longer is state of the art. Re-licensing this plant would extend its life to 60 years. In what other industry are we using technology that is more than 60 years old? In what other industry are the inherent risks greater?"

Should these and other issues be addressed, Wolf said, he would welcome re-licensing. But if not, he called on the NRC to "work with our local communities, business and political leaders to decommission the plant and find ways to transform the site so it remains a positive contributor to the local economy."

The NRC presently is reviewing a re-licensing proposal from Entergy, operator of the Pilgrim reactor. The commission has not yet indicated when a decision will be announced.

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