Plymouth Downgraded In Safety Ranking

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) lowered the plant’s rating after multiple inspections at the plant and will increase its monitoring efforts of the facility as a result.

NRC downgraded the plant from a level three to a level four ranking, out of a ranking of five, citing a “low-to-moderate” safety level at the plant. Only two other reactors are in the number 4 category in the NRC’s ranking, both at Arkansas Power Plant. No power plants are listed in the lowest ranking.

Neil A. Sheehan, spokesman for NRC, said the plant does not pose an immediate threat to the region; otherwise the ruling from the federal agency would have shut the plant down.

He said, however, that the ruling will prompt more frequent inspections at the plant; it will force Entergy, the plant’s operator, to report quarterly to the NRC; and NRC will investigate the “culture” of the facility to make sure personnel have the “willingness” to report potential safety concerns.

Wednesday’s decision prompted legislators and local grassroots organizers to respond.

Senator Viriato M. (Vinny) deMacedo (R-Plymouth) issued a press statement Wednesday evening. “I am pleased that the NRC will continue to focus its attention on Pilgrim Station to ensure that it continues to operate in a safe manner,” the statement read. “Protecting the health and safety of the residents of Plymouth and the region must remain our highest priority.”

The statement read that Sen. deMacedo will continue to work with colleagues in the federal and state delegations to figure out the next steps and that he plans to meet with the NRC.

Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D-Harwich) also responded with a release.

“… no responsible public official can say that this plant should be allowed to function for another 20 years,” read his statement issued yesterday, Thursday, September 3. “That is a legacy we cannot in good conscience leave to our children.” He continued in his statement, ”…let’s be clear that we don’t need this nuclear power plant. We have enough electricity without it, and we have enough talent and creative alternatives to transform our energy future without it.”

Sen. Wolf’s release was in response to comments from Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. after the governor told reporters he was confident the plant was safe.

“Pilgrim threatens not just the health of our communities, but our entire way of life,” Sen. Wolf’s release continued. “Even a minor accident—and the plant has been forced into unplanned shutdowns multiple times in recent months—would destroy lives, destroy communities, destroy property values, and destroy our economy.”

Janet D. Azarovitz, a Falmouth resident and leader of grassroots efforts to shut the plant down, said NRC’s ruling could help push for the passage of state legislation for increased safety and potentially for the plant’s closure.

She also said that NRC’s decision could alert residents to the dangers of the plant. She urged others to support the passage of such state bills as Bill S.1797 and Bill S.1798 from Sen. Wolf. One would establish a fee on the storage of spent nuclear fuel in pools, and the other would establish funding for post-closure activities at nuclear power stations.

She also urged residents to call on Sen. deMacedo to be more proactive on Cape Cod’s interests, in particular, for his constituents in Falmouth.

Ms. Azarovitz said that NRC’s distinction is an alert to Entergy’s economic problems, which she believes will lead to the plant’s closure. She said that Entergy had the funds, the issues at Pilgrim would have been resolved. A nuclear plant in Vermont closed recently because of financial issues, she noted.

NRC transitioned the Plymouth plant into category 3 late in 2013 as a result of unplanned shutdowns and unplanned shutdowns with complications, a release from NRC read. During an inspection a year later, NRC found Entergy had not adequately evaluated the causes of the shutdowns and that some corrective actions had not been completed.

The most recent finding was identified during an inspection following a storm-induced shutdown in January, which involved the performance of the plant’s safety relief valves.

“The most recent finding highlights the continuing weaknesses in the implementation of Entergy’s program for identifying, evaluating and resolving problems at Pilgrim,” NRC regional administrator Dan Dorman said in a release. “Our increased oversight will focus on understanding the reasons for those weaknesses and the actions needed to achieve sustained improvements.”

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