Inspection reveals 11 deficiencies at Pilgrim

State legislators representing the region called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Tuesday to stop the refueling of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s reactor planned for this spring and instead order the plant to begin shutting down.

PLYMOUTH — State legislators representing the region called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday to stop the refueling of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s reactor planned for this spring and instead order the plant to begin shutting down — a demand that drew a roar of approval from the 200 plant opponents attending the public forum in Plymouth.

“We wish we could say that based on your presentation we feel comforted and confident that the ongoing operation of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will be flawless and uninterrupted,” legislators said in a statement presented by state representatives Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, and Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich. “Unfortunately we came away from that meeting with as many or more concerns than we had prior to the meeting.”

Federal regulators met with the group of lawmakers on Monday to brief them before Tuesday’s public forum in Plymouth.

On Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited a long list of failures found at Pilgrim, including the failure to properly identify and resolve problems and a safety culture that allows such problems to persist.

“Pilgrim leadership has not held themselves and their subordinates accountable to high standards of performance,” said Donald Jackson, leader of a special inspection team sent to Pilgrim for three weeks in December and January.

In fact, Jackson said, his inspectors, who work at various nuclear plants around the country, were surprised by what they saw at Pilgrim, since it was not typical of the industry standard.

Eleven deficiencies were found by inspectors and two by Entergy. All were categorized as low in safety significance except for one related to a failure to properly maintain an emergency diesel generator, whose safety significance has not yet been decided.

Still, the plant didn’t fail requirements badly enough to prompt federal authorities to order it shut down.

“Safety margins were adequate,” according to NRC Bureau Chief Arthur Burritt.

Jackson said seven of the 11 deficiencies his team identified were directly related to Pilgrim’s corrective action program, “identifying causes but taking actions that don’t address the cause.”

In their statement, the legislators compared the behavior of Pilgrim’s operators to “extending the middle finger to the NRC, the surrounding Plymouth community, and to all that are affected by their poor operating standards.That includes our constituents and most residents of Massachusetts.”

Many of the legislators stepped to the microphone to personally urge Pilgrim’s closure and quick decommissioning.

“I call on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission unequivocally to shut Pilgrim down now,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. “That means now, that means today.”

Read the letter sent by local lawmakers

Plymouth resident Henrietta Cosentino complained Entergy was “balancing money against our lives.”

Diane Turco came to Tuesday’s meeting with a large roll of bright yellow crime scene tape to unfurl in front of the stage where federal nuclear overseers were seated.

She hoped the strong visual impact might do what years of talk had failed to: convey that it was time to shut the plant down.

“We want to make a clear point that it’s criminal negligence when they know there’s a danger to the public and allow it to continue,” Turco, president of the Cape Downwinders citizens group, said before the meeting.

Fellow Cape Downwinders held the crime scene tape in front of the NRC while Turco addressed the agency. ”‘Repetitive’ and ‘degrading’ are not words that should be paired with a nuclear reactor,” Turco said. “What is it going to take for you to close Pilgrim? An accident?”

Entergy, Pilgrim’s owner and operator, plans to shut the reactor down permanently on May 31, 2019.

That’s not soon enough, said Cape Cod physician James Garb. “I know a good safety culture when I see it and a bad safety culture when I see it,” Garb said. “At Pilgrim I see a bad safety culture and I have no confidence Pilgrim will turn it around.”

Plymouth resident Leighton Price said the public safety risks connected to the 44-year-old nuclear plant are enormous. “The NRC is gambling the aged plant won’t have an accident.”

The NRC will continue to assign a third inspector to Pilgrim and keep a schedule of frequent inspections to determine whether plant operators follow through with fixes.

A group of plant employees attended the meeting and a couple stood up to say they believed the plant was well-managed.

Pilgrim operators are putting together a recovery plan based on improvements they have agreed to make in light of the inspection’s findings.

— Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT

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