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Pilgrim Nuclear denied permit to discharge radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay

CAI | By Jennette Barnes

Participants hold signs at a rally Sept. 26, 2022 on the lawn of Plymouth Town Hall against the discharge of radioactive water from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

In a major victory for Pilgrim watchdogs, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has denied a permit modification sought by the company decommissioning the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to discharge up to 1.1 million gallons of radioactive wastewater into Cape Cod Bay.

DEP issued a draft determination today that Holtec International's proposed discharge is illegal because Cape Cod Bay is a protected ocean sanctuary under the Massachusetts Ocean Sanctuaries Act. The law prohibits the dumping or discharge of industrial wastes into protected state waters.

Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, called the decision an important moment.

“This has been APCC's top environmental priority for a couple of years now,” Gottlieb said. “It's a really good outcome for Cape Cod—not just the bay, but all the people whose businesses and livelihoods and emotional investments are predicated on clean water in Cape Cod Bay.”

State Senator Susan Moran also extolled the DEP's permit denial, calling it a key victory for opponents of the water discharge, including the Governor's office. "This is leadership on the part of the administration," Moran said. "I'm absolutely thrilled that what my office, the legislators, and especially the advocates have been fighting for has really come to fruition."

Sanctuary designation is key

The fact that the water would contain radioactive material is not a factor in the determination.

Holtec, which owns and is decommissioning the closed plant, applied to the state for a modification of its surface-water discharge permit.

In an email summarizing its decision, the DEP pointed to the established legal protections for Cape Cod Bay, writing: "The Ocean Sanctuaries Act prohibits the 'dumping or discharge of commercial, municipal, domestic or industrial wastes' into ocean sanctuaries. The process water that Holtec proposes to discharge qualifies as industrial wastewater, and therefore, the proposed discharge is prohibited."

Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for Pilgrim owner Holtec, says the company is disappointed but will continue to pursue a similar federal permit.

The draft denial cannot be finalized until after a 30-day public comment period. The comment period runs through Aug. 28 at 5 p.m.

The public can submit comments electronically to: Written comments can be submitted to: MassDEP Surface Water Discharge Permitting Program, 100 Cambridge St., Suite 900, Boston, MA 02114.

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