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Activists challenge Baker's response on plant closure

By Christine Legere

Posted Oct. 24, 2015 at 2:00 AM
Updated at 6:38 AM 

BOSTON — After their rally at the Statehouse on Thursday, watchdogs of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station delivered a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker saying the plant is unsafe and should be shut down immediately to protect the public.

They did not get the response they were looking for.

Entergy Corp., the plant’s owner-operator, announced earlier this month its plan to shutter the 43-year-old Plymouth plant no later than June 2019 because it was no longer financially viable.

Anti-Pilgrim activists said the plant would be even more dangerous between now and its closing, since there is no incentive for costly maintenance and repairs.

Asked by reporters for reaction to the demand for Pilgrim's immediate shutdown, Baker had some words of caution. "What I would say is that for me, the safety issue is fundamental, but we all need to remember that it’s 700 megawatts of power that’s there every single day, that’s part of our base level when we turn on the lights, and we turn on our heaters.

"We need to be in constant communication with ISO, which is the enterprise that oversees the New England energy grid, and make sure whatever it is that happens here happens as quickly and as appropriately and as safely as it possibly can," Baker said. "I am completely with people on that, but we also need to make sure that we don’t end up doing something that translates into rolling brownouts or, God forbid, blackouts here in the New England region.”


Now is the time for Massachusetts to plan, he said, to make sure an adequate flow of energy continues. "In the end, the NRC and ISO are going to have as much to say about when we actually shut down Pilgrim as anybody in our administration is," he said. 

Baker’s comments were not well-received by members of the Cape Downwinders as well as other activists, including state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich. 

"If the thought is, needing power means having a substandard plant in our backyard, I have a problem with that," Wolf said. "It troubles me that the need for electricity trumps the obligation we have to make sure the plant operates at the highest safety standard possible."

Diane Turco, co-founder and president of the Cape Downwinders, was one of those who delivered the letter Thursday requesting Pilgrim's shutdown. 

“If the safety issue is truly ‘fundamental’ as he states, Governor Baker must uphold the public safety by calling for the immediate closing of Pilgrim,” Turco said. “Has Governor Baker not read the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports citing Entergy for not completing corrective action plans, not repairing safety equipment, and being assessed as one of the worst operating reactors in the country?”

The Plymouth plant is losing $40 million annually as a result of the low cost of natural gas, according to Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities. Mohl cited poor market conditions, reduced revenues and increased operational costs as the driving factors in the decision to close.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission placed Pilgrim one step away from forced closure in September, downgrading the plant for repeated unplanned shutdowns. The downgrade meant more frequent and costly federal inspections coupled with the requirement for upgrades and repairs that could cost up to $60 million, not counting capital investments.

Duxbury resident Mary Lampert, founder and president of Pilgrim Watch, said New England does not need the power produced by the 680-megawatt plant. “The lights stayed on when Pilgrim was offline for 49 days during winter and spring 2015,” she wrote in an email. She added that legislation pending before the Legislature calls for importing Canadian hydroelectric power and expansion of solar and wind energy both onshore and offshore.


Downwinder Arlene Williamson agreed. “We will survive without Pilgrim’s electricity,” she said. “We won’t survive the devastating effects of a nuclear accident.”

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