By Frank Mandfirstname.lastname@example.org
Nov. 23, 2014
PLYMOUTH – Opponents of a plan to create a new emergency cooling system at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station crowded the Mayflower Room at Town Hall Tuesday morning, barely able to hide their disdain for what they called the “Rube Goldberg” plan and the plant.
The meeting was a formal public hearing on Entergy’s request for a state permit for two moorings that will be used as part of a system that would allow the plant to pump ocean water into the reactor in the event of a loss of all onsite and offsite power.
In response to the lessons learned after the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster in Japan in 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) established what it calls a FLEX strategy, requiring plant owners to devise backup systems that rely on portable equipment. The FLEX strategy also allows plants to devise backup systems that are site-specific, ensuring that each plant can respond to extreme events that have a greater probability of occurring locally. That, in part, is how Pilgrim came to devise the emergency cooling backup system in question, opening it up to criticism that the plan is unproven and dangerous and was selected because it was “the least expensive option.”
The public hearing formally began with Entergy stating that the moorings and associated equipment would have a minimal environmental impact and only be used in the unlikely circumstance that there is a “beyond design basis event,” such as an earthquake, tornado or extreme hurricane. The system would be employed only if other backup systems were offline, and would only be in place for a limited time.
Entergy’s comments were then followed by an almost unrelenting verbal assault on the plan. Jones River Watershed Association Executive Director Pine duBois took issue with the data that Entergy presented, and suggested that the pumping system envisioned would not be able to withstand the pounding of the surf that is normally associated with severe winter storms in this area.
Falmouth resident and Cape Downwinder member Bill Maurer said that the proposed system could result in irradiated water flowing back into the Bay, and showed images of the hose and strainer that Entergy plans to purchase being deployed in a pond.
“It’s a joke of a system,” Pilgrim Watch founder Mary Lampert testified, “that won’t give us what we really need in an accident where there is a loss of coolant. “The system proposed,” Lampert said, “is something to be used for bringing dinghies ashore, not something to be used in case of a nuclear disaster.”
“We need to prevent these events from happening,” Turco said. “We don’t need this system. We need for Pilgrim to be shut down.”
Elaine Dickinson, another Cape Cod resident attending the meeting, rhetorically asked, “This is the best fix you can come up with?” She then said Entergy places profits over safety.
Plymouth resident Meg Sheehan brought the discussion back to the criteria that the DEP may use to make a decision, specifically whether the requested moorings serve a public purpose. “They do not,” Sheehan said emphatically, then suggested there are still questions about what would happen to the ocean water once it is used to cool the reactor. Sheehan showed images of firefighters and fire boats spraying the Fukushima-Daiichi plant with water from hoses, suggesting that in the Japanese disaster much of the water used to try and cool reactor buildings immediately following the tsunami was simply allowed to flow back into the ground and into the ocean. “Until they show where the water is going to go,” Sheehan said, “the moorings have no proper public focus.”
After two hours of public comment, DEP officials ended the hearing, noting that written comments would be accepted during the 20 days after the hearing.
Later that day, Entergy Senior Communications Specialist Lauren Burm addressed the criticisms of the plan, one by one. It’s not a cheap fix, Burm insisted. “The moorings and intake system are one of several options available to the plant to bring water to the reactor in the event of loss of all onsite and offsite power,” she said. “Pilgrim has invested tens of millions of dollars in FLEX-related equipment and upgrades, all of which are designed to increase plant safety and provide additional redundancy to existing back-up systems.”
Burm also explained why Entergy thinks the system would not be dangerous to those designated to implement it, or to the Bay. “The mooring method of bringing water to the plant would only be used if it could be deployed safely,” Burm said. “Other alternative water sources could be used if weather conditions prevented safe operation of the mooring intake system. “The assertion that there would be radiation added to water in the Bay from this system is completely false,” Burm said. “None of the water from the system would be irradiated and returned to the Bay.”
Burm said the term she would use to describe this application of the FLEX strategy, is innovative, not experimental. “It is a more robust version of similar standard designs. The mooring system is one of five options available to bring water to the reactor.”
The DEP will accept written public comments for up to 20 days after the close of the hearing. Comments should be sent to: Dave Hill, environmental engineer, DEP Waterways Program, 20 Riverside Drive, Lakeville, MA 02347.