Pilgrim nuclear plant a scary prospect for South Shore

By Thomas Farragher GLOBE COLUMNIST
OCTOBER 09, 2015

Your spouse calls you into the kitchen. The table is cluttered with bills and balance sheets and the news is not good: “Honey, we’re headed for the poor farm.’’

Your dentist returns after reading your X-rays. He looks glum, shakes his head, and says: “There’s a root canal in your future.’’

No way to sugar coat it. Bad, bad news.

Then there’s this: The operator of your friendly neighborhood nuclear power plant is so strapped for cash and its aging and trouble-riddled atomic generating station is in such poor shape that there may not be enough money to fix it.

I don’t know about you, put I’ll take the poor house and deep dental pain before any prospect that the skies above me will be poisoned with enough radioactivity to set off Geiger counters like a vintage pinball machine.

If officials can’t afford the multimillion-dollar improvements required by federal officials, they might close the Plymouth site. Tough times, no easy answers for Pilgrim

No. There’s no way to sugar coat the electric news flowing out of Entergy Corp.’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station these days.

A quick recap: There have been a series of unplanned shutdowns of the Plymouth plant’s reactor in recent years. Inspections have revealed safety problems that are not insignificant.

Just this week, we learned that Pilgrim failed to comply with a government advisory about fire safety systems at the plant. That advisory was issued 23 years ago!

“I know Entergy is a southern company and in the South they do things at a more leisurely place, but this is stretching it,’’ said Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch, which she directs from her home in Duxbury where, through the trees and across the bay, she literally can keep an eye on Pilgrim.

Lampert and other critics of Pilgrim want the plant shut down. And pronto.

“You can’t run an antique nuclear reactor on the cheap and that’s what they’re doing,’’ she said.

Jeff Berger, a former chairman of the local committee in Plymouth that advises that board of selectman on Pilgrim matters, said the roughly $10 million the plant funnels into Plymouth coffers each year have kept residents “fat, dumb and happy’’ for too long. A recent UMass-Amherst study placed the plant’s direct and indirect economic impact at $255 million.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,’’ said Berger, speaking for himself and not the committee he used to lead. “What else is wrong with that plant that we don’t know?’’

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is so concerned about safety issues at the 43-year-old plant that last month it downgraded its safety rating. There is now no other plant in the country with a lower rating. Essentially Pilgrim is the atomic energy equivalent of a junk bond. It now rates as one of the three least safe units among the country’s 99 reactors.

Still, officials at the plant, which employs nearly 600, say safety remains paramount and insist it will never be compromised.

“Our families live in the community as well and we’re not willing to risk their safety,’’ said David Noyes, a Plymouth resident and Pilgrim’s director of regulatory and performance improvement. “I believe a vast majority of the people feel safe with the plant in their community and feel the town is better for having the plant there.’’

Kevin O’Reilly, executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees. “I grew up with a nuclear plant in my community,’’ O’Reilly said. “You have to put some faith in the NRC.’’

I believe people like O’Reilly, who has raised his family in Plymouth and says he would never do anything to endanger them.

But I can’t help but feeling that the millions that have flowed into the coffers of local government from Pilgrim have had some muffling effect on the alarm bells of safety.

You have a sugar daddy paying your mortgage and buying you shiny new vehicles, and your more apt to dismiss his chronic late-night snoring and the pea soup he spills on his tie at supper.

If something goes wrong with Pilgrim between now and when Entergy finally shuts down its reactor, jokes about William Bradford glowing bright yellow at Plimoth Plantation and mutated Thanksgiving turkeys with six wings will be even lamer than they are now.

Nothing will tickle anyone’s irradiated funny bone then.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.

Source: Pilgrim nuclear plant a scary prospect for South Shore – The Boston Globe

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