Three views of dry cask storage at Pilgrim Station

Published under Fair Use
By Frank Mand
February 23. 2015

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All sides had their territories staked out, and there was little give and take.

PLYMOUTH – While last week’s discussion in Plymouth of the merits and drawbacks of dry-cask storage at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant was certainly civil, it was not a debate. All sides had their territories staked out, and there was little give and take.

Three sides were heard from: Pine duBois, speaking on behalf of those mainly concerned with the effect of the plant on the ecology of the Plymouth Bay; Mary Lampert, who believes Entergy’s approach to dry cask storage is unproven; and Pilgrim-owner Entergy, which largely contented itself with playing defense.

DuBois noted that her chief concern was the bay and spent her allotted 15 minutes explaining why Pilgrim can’t be sure the new dry-cask units are safe.

The plant and the new storage units, duBois said, which sit 175 feet from the water’s edge, face a triple threat tied to climate change: increasing storms; rising sea level; and subsidence and erosion. Compounding those issues are multiple elevation standards and inaccurate old benchmarks, some going back more than 75 years.

“There is a need for an accurate site assessment,” duBois said. “A proper understanding of elevation is an essential tool. But all Pilgrim has shown are cut-and-paste plans that date back to the ’70s.”

DuBois, who is the executive director of Kingston-based Jones River Watershed Association, said this week that the plant needs to go back to the beginning.

“Professional on-the-ground surveys is the first step in any good planning,” duBois said, “and a requirement in every large infrastructure investment. Somehow Entergy has sidestepped this basic requirement and has provided only snapshot views of limited building projects that lack environmental context. In order to evaluate its vulnerability to damage from the ocean they need to provide a standard professional survey now.”

DuBois says climate change alone has produced a half-foot rise in the local sea level that on its own may not frighten people, but if the plans Entergy is using are not up to date, the effect could be disastrous.

Mary Lampert, founder of the organization Pilgrim Watch and a long-time member of Duxbury’s Nuclear Matters Committee, began her critique of dry-cask storage at the plant on what was being left behind.

“Entergy has told us that they intend to keep a majority of the fuel in the pool (inside the reactor building),” Lampert said.

A highly dense spent fuel pool was at risk for fire from human error, technological breakdown or acts of malice, Lampert said and that such an event could render a large portion of Massachusetts uninhabitable.

“The solution for us,” Lampert said, “is to actively support legislation that has been filed at the state house by Sen. Wolf.”

Sen. Dan Wolf’s (D-Harwich) recent legislation – “An Act establishing a fee on the storage of spent nuclear fuel in pools” – would require that Entergy pay $10,000 for every spent fuel assembly in the pool within the reactor building. With more than 3,000 assemblies still in the pool at Pilgrim that fee would translate, as of today, to more than $30 million and Plymouth’s share to 9 million annually.

When it was its turn Entergy made a brief presentation on the success of the first phase of dry-cask storage and explained the process of transferring spent fuel from the pool inside the reactor to the dry cask units stored outside.

Dave Noyes, the director of regulatory and performance improvement at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, also responded to specific concerns raised during the previous presentations and in response to questions from those in attendance.

When it was noted that the present concrete pad meant to hold the dry cask units has a limit of 40 casks, and the plant has far more spent fuel waiting in the pool, Noyes said that the plant was not planning a second pad.

“We’re hoping not to need (a second pad),” Noyes said, “hoping it goes to an interim or long-term federal facility.”

When he was asked about possible cracking in the concrete casks, and how dangerous that would be, Noyes explained that before getting approval for transferring actual spent fuel from pool to cask, operators at Pilgrim had to show they could put the process in reverse, for just such an occasion.

Plymouth resident Charles Bramhall asked to know that if the casks had a life expectancy of 100 years, who will be responsible and pay for the casks 100 years from now.

“I don’t want future generations to worry about my issue,” Bramhall said. “We need to address this now, so our kids’ kids’ kids don’t have to deal with it.”

Noyes said that while the casks are designed for a 100-year life (certified for 20), the Department of Energy is required to accept the spent fuel at some point and store it in a federal facility.

Several members of Cape Downwinders were in attendance and raised the evacuation issue.

Noyes’ response was that the state, specifically the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), was responsible for devising an evacuation plan and for implementing it if and when.

“That’s not a Pilgrim effort,” Noyes emphasized, “it’s a state effort.”

Nuclear Matters Committee member Jim Simpson related what he had seen during the “fourth dry run” plant staff had gone through before the NRC gave Entergy permission to transfer real spent fuel. He said he had been impressed with the process and the strength of critical equipment used and was convinced plant staff could accomplish these biannual transfers safely.

When the special meeting had concluded Board of Selectmen Chairman Ken Tavares spoke at length about what he believes is the way to resolve the issue at the heart of the dry cask debate – the storage of radioactive waste.

“It’s wonderful, at the grass roots level, to make comments and ask questions,” Tavares said, “but change takes place at the federal level. Our emphasis has got to be on changing things in Washington D.C. Certainly we want our local delegation to be involved, but it’s people in higher offices making the decisions.”

Tavares said he does believe the town should be compensated for being used as a “nuclear dump” but that first the town needs to work for a solution that will not force future generations to deal with the same issue.

The buck, Selectman Tony Provenzano said, has not stopped in Washington D.C.

“The fact that we are here tonight, the fact that [we] are moving spent fuel to dry-cask storage, is a measure of the failure of the federal government,” Provenzano said.

Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.

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