Antinuclear group labels Pilgrim radiation monitoring ‘blind spots’


September 16, 2014

HYANNIS – Local antinuclear activists say the state has agreed to check whether the current monitors for radioactive emissions from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station can detect any leaks headed for the Cape.

In a first-of-its-kind working session, Suzanne Condon, director of the Bureau of Environmental Health for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and her team of state health and environmental experts met with the Cape Downwinders in Hyannis on Friday.

The Downwinders have a number of concerns regarding the 42-year-old Plymouth plant, but the focus of this particular meeting with Condon was on monitoring.

“We brought up that the monitoring system seems to be in the shape of a horseshoe,”William Maurer, a Downwinders member, said. “It seems like there are blind spots on the Cape.”

Condon agreed to check on that, Maurer said. Condon could not be reached for confirmation on Monday.

“State health officials left with the task of evaluating whether they have complete coverage so they have complete coverage so they can predict plume direction,” Maurer said.

Currently the DPH has a system of 14 real-time radiological monitors that state health officials track daily. Most are clustered around Pilgrim.

Wind speed and direction is tracked by a meteorological tower near the Pilgrim plant.

Three monitors were recently relocated to the Plymouth waterfront, the Colony Place business district and Gurnet Point to better pick up what was happening in the area around the plant.

Those locations have also been equipped with their own machinery to calculate wind speed and direction.

In Duxbury, residents paid to have a monitor installed near the harbormaster’s headquarters near the town harbor, which DPH has now agreed to take over and maintain. The device and an accompanying anemometer to track wind have been up and running since spring.

If radiation levels exceed base amounts, alarms sound and alerts automatically go out to emergency responders Maurer, who has a copy of DPH’s map of monitoring locations, said his own “back of the envelope”calculations since Friday’s meeting have led him to believe the current monitoring system’s “blind spot” stretches from Brewster and Chatham up to Provincetown.

He’ll have to wait to see whether the state study confirms that. Downwinders were given no time frame for the work to be completed. The coverage will be evaluated in a variety of meteorological conditions, Maurer said.

Mary Lampert, executive director of the Duxbury-based citizens group Pilgrim Watch, also attended Friday’s meeting.

“The good news is they agreed to develop a map that would show the locations of the monitors and what areas of the Cape they cover and if there are any blank areas,” Lampert said. “The sad news is DPH doesn’t have the money to provide the monitors if they are needed, although they have no objection to the Cape following Duxbury and buying their own monitors.”

Lampert said she was also pleased with Condon’s assurance that the data generated by the monitors is archived.

“It’s very important that it’s not lost, so epidemiologists will have the data and emergency planners can use it,”she said.

Margaret Stevens, a Bourne resident and Downwinder, said she’d like three monitors installed on the Cape, in the Upper, Mid- and Lower Cape. “I don’t think there’s enough depth to the monitors they have,”she said.

Money will be a factor in how many monitors, if any, the Cape gets. The price tag for equipment and installation runs about $44,000.

“The cost was higher than we thought it might be,” Stevens said. “We’ll start with however many we can get.”

Lampert said the money would likely be the result of an effort by a governmental body. In Duxbury, town meeting appropriated the funds.

“We haven’t quite figured it out yet, but we’ll raise the funds somehow,” Stevens said. “We need this.”

Maurer said Downwinders also brought up with Condon their concerns about evacuating the Cape in a nuclear disaster but were told that’s a subject for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Still, Maurer believed state officials see the dilemma Cape residents face after traveling to the area.

“I think they were driving home thinking ‘Wow, these people really do have something to be concerned about,’”he said.

Follow Christine Legere on Twitter:@chrislegere@CCT.

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