Mass. Lawmakers Condemn Proposal to Dump Radioactive Water Into Cape Cod Bay

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth shut down in 2019, and ever since, there has been speculation about what will happen to the million gallons of radioactive waste sitting offshore

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Members of Massachusetts' congressional delegation are pushing back against the proposed dumping of 1 million gallons of radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay.

Holtec International, which purchased Plymouth's Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in 2019, intends to complete the plant's decommissioning by 2024.

While Holtec says no final decisions have been made about what it will do with Pilgrim's radioactive waste, many in the area fear it will be released into the bay.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Ed Markey, Rep. Bill Keating and Rep. Seth Moulton, all Democrats from Massachusetts, sent a joint letter to Holtec Thursday urging the company to pursue other options.

"We write to express our opposition to the proposed discharge of radioactive water from Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (Pilgrim) into Cape Cod Bay," the lawmakers said in the letter. "The strong public opposition to news of the proposed discharge reflects Holtec’s failure to engage in the forthright, open, and transparent process that it promised the Plymouth community and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts when it took over the operating license for the decommissioning of Pilgrim."

For years, Pilgrim was the only operating commercial nuclear power plant in Massachusetts. Previously owned by Entergy Corporation, which planned on decommissioning the plant over a long period of time, it was purchased by Holtec in 2019.

Diane Turco of Cape Downwinders said her group has been protesting this for decades.

"I am shocked at how irresponsible decommissioning has moved forward," Turco told NBC10 Boston. "There is no real plan to deal with this highly radioactive waste."

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says Holtec's accelerated plan could pose some risks.

"The danger, of course, is that in their attempt to reduce the costs and timeline for decommissioning, that they will cut corners in a way that might jeopardize public health and safety," said Lyman.

The lawmakers cited the transportation of waste from the decommissioned Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant to a facility in Idaho as a "viable alternative to the discharge of radioactive material into one of the most important areas of marine life and economy in the United States."

David Lochbaum, the Union of Concerned Scientists' former director of nuclear safety, told NBC10 Boston he sees "no legitimate reason" not to discharge the waste into the ocean.

"I would strongly advocate against shipping the radioactively contaminated water," Lochbaum said. "Shipping accidents have occurred. When accidents of liquid-free materials happen, it's cleanup on aisle 10. But accidents involving radioactive liquids can result in the water flowing into groundwater or streams or other places where the dilution does not lower the concentration of harmful materials to safe, or less unsafe, levels."

In the past, Pilgrim has released water from the plant that contained radioactive waste, all within federal guidelines. The lawmakers note that the volume of water is nearly three times greater than the facility has discharged in any single year in the past.

Holtec released the following statement to the NBC10 Boston Investigators Wednesday:

  • "Since the November 22nd Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory meeting there have been questions and concerns around the final disposition of processed water on the site. We have been consistent in our messaging since that meeting that over the next year we will be evaluating the regulatory approved options available and no final decisions have been made. The EPA and NRC have strict regulations regarding the disposition of all effluents from any decommissioning site and Holtec confirms that these requirements will be followed in all states where we conduct operations. We wanted to share that in the near term the decision at Pilgrim has been made that the processed water will remain on site, safely stored, and that we will not discharge any processed water in 2022 while this evaluation is undertaken. We appreciate and understand the public's questions and concerns and remain committed to an open, transparent process on the decommissioning of Pilgrim Station focused on the health and safety of the public, the environment, and on-site personnel."

On Jan. 31, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel will meet. Members of Cape Downwinders and Pilgrim Watch plan to be there. They have invited several state officials to attend, including Warren, Markey, Keating and Attorney General Maura Healey.

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