Pilgrim plant owner to begin moving radioactive fuel rods

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A team of 50 to 60 radiation technicians, carpenters and laborers is ready to begin moving 204 radioactive spent fuel rod assemblies out of a pool on top of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s reactor building and into three massive, concrete casks.

By Christine Legere
clegere@capecodonline.com
Posted Jan. 3, 2015

PLYMOUTH — Entergy Corp. announced Friday that a team of 50 to 60 radiation technicians, carpenters and laborers is ready to begin moving 204 radioactive spent fuel rod assemblies out of a pool on top of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s reactor building and into three massive, concrete casks.

The casks, 18 feet tall, 11 feet wide and weighing 360,000 pounds each, will then be relayed via a rail to an outdoor pad 25 feet above sea level.

The two-week procedure, estimated to cost the company $4 million, will provide enough room in the spent fuel pool at Pilgrim for the scheduled refueling of the reactor this spring. The pool currently contains about 3,300 spent fuel rod assemblies collected in the last 42 years.

David Noyes, the power plant’s regulatory and performance director, described the loading process, saying a “multi-purpose canister” enclosed in a transfer cask will be lowered to the bottom of the spent fuel pool and loaded with 68 assemblies. Then the canister and cask are lifted and placed on the refueling floor, where a lid is secured. “The water is drained from the canister and replaced by helium,” Noyes said. The transfer cask is then lowered from the roof, which is 117 feet above sea level, by a giant crane capable of holding 200 tons. The transfer cask is set on top of the final dry cask, and the multipurpose canister drops into the permanent cask, which is sealed.

Some radiation leakage is associated with the process, Noyes said. “Spent fuel has radiation associated with it,” he said. “As the cask is lifted, it raises radiation levels on the refueling floor, but it’s still within acceptable limits. There is no appreciable change in the radiation level at the site boundary.”

All three casks are expected to be filled, sealed and in place on the outdoor pad by the end of the month. The total cost of the preparation work for the casks along with the coming transfer is $65 million, according to Entergy spokeswoman Lauren Burm.

Although there is a consensus that dry cask storage is safer than storage in fuel pools on top of the reactor building, the location of the dry cask storage pad at Pilgrim has been the subject of a local appeal by concerned residents, followed by a land court case. Plymouth’s inspectional services department had allowed Entergy to do all the preparatory work for the casks without any review, saying the original permit granted to the utility covered the work.

Residents and area environmental groups appealed the decision to the town’s zoning board, which upheld it. The residents then took the suit to land court, where it is pending.

Noyes said the court allowed Entergy to proceed with the dry cask transfer even though the case is not yet settled.

Pine duBois, executive director of the Jones River Watershed Association, has been a vocal opponent to the pad’s location. “I think it’s foolhardy that it’s so close to the coast and exposed to the elements,” duBois said Friday. “We think there’s a high potential for damage to the environment and to the population if they store their waste there.”

DuBois said she also was concerned about the transfer of the radioactive fuel rods to the casks. “I certainly don’t have a level of confidence they’re going to carry it off in a safe and secure manner and that it’s being stored in a safe and secure manner.”

Diane Turco, founder of the anti-Pilgrim watchdog group known as Cape Downwinders, said Entergy is only moving the rods to dry casks so it can keep operating. “This has nothing to do with safety; it has to do with profit,” Turco said. “It’s outrageous.”

Original article at http://www.capecodtimes.com/article/20150103/NEWS/150109843/
Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.

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