Groups want Pilgrim permit yanked

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Environmentalists claim obsolete cooling system is harming sea life in Cape Cod Bay

The permit that regulates the nuclear plant’s intake and discharge of water expired in 1996 and has never been updated.

By Christine Legere
clegere@capecodonline.com
Jun. 9, 2015

Twenty-four environmental groups from across the state are calling on federal and state regulators to terminate the permit that allows the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to draw and discharge about 500 million gallons of Cape Cod Bay seawater each day.

The termination would force the plant owner to cease operations until it obtained an updated permit.

The water is used to cool the steam that runs the plant’s turbines, converting the steam back to water. The seawater is then discharged back into the bay. The cooling system has been used since the plant opened in 1972.

The permit that regulates this process, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, expired in 1996 and has never been updated.

Cape Cod Bay Watch released a 36-page report Monday that contends the Pilgrim plant is destroying marine life and polluting Cape Cod Bay by employing an outdated cooling system.

The watchdog organization’s report, which the environmental organizations signed onto, lists the ways Pilgrim is affecting the bay, including killing millions of fish and billions of smaller marine organisms drawn onto the water intake screen or sucked into the cooling system, and dumping 500 million gallons of hot water mixed with pollutants that “disrupt and destroy ecosystem processes.”

William Maurer, a Falmouth resident and member of the Cape Downwinders advocacy group, worked on the report. He noted that cooling turbines with a so-called “looped system,” which uses cooling towers that store water that is then reused, are much less damaging to the environment. “The once-through system is cheaper, and it’s all about the money,” Maurer said.

Ed DeWitt, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, said the report drew on some data from his group’s study of Pilgrim completed a year ago. “One of the things we did was look at Pilgrim from the environmental impact on Cape Cod, and it didn’t fare well,” DeWitt said. “We came to the conclusion Pilgrim is poorly designed and functionally obsolete. It poses not only a future environmental threat but a present threat.”

Lauren Burm, spokeswoman for Entergy, Pilgrim’s owner-operator, disagreed with the report’s findings regarding the plant’s impact on the ecosystem. “Entergy conducts an extensive biological monitoring program, which establishes that Pilgrim’s operations are not adversely impacting Cape Cod Bay,” Burm wrote.

Attorney Meg Sheehan, speaking for Cape Cod Bay Watch, said the wait for an updated permit, which would bring with it a requirement for more current and environmentally friendly processes, has been far too long.

Her group issued a notice of intent to sue Entergy over the lack of an updated water discharge permit back in 2012. Entergy threatened a countersuit, Sheehan said.

“The Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency promised they would move to renew the permit, which was supposed to happen in December 2013,” Sheehan said. “Here we are in the summer of 2015 and nothing has happened. We feel this is an outrage and unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Edmund Coletta said his agency has been working with the EPA to draft a new discharge permit for Pilgrim.

“A major part of that work is a cooling water intake analysis that is currently being completed by the EPA,” Coletta wrote in an email. He added the EPA is the “lead” on the permit. “Once that analysis is finished, the draft permit will be made available for public comment by EPA. In the meantime, the current discharge permit remains in force.”

— Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.

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