Safety concerns persist at aging power plant

 

Written by Diane Turco   

The announcement of Entergy Corporation shutting Pilgrim was met with relief and cheers by the public; however, it won’t close until 2019. That is almost four years, too far away. The notice of the future closing must not distract and shift attention from the serious public safety concerns, ongoing safety violations and lack of financial investment for the troubled nuclear reactor on Cape Cod Bay.

Based on a financial decision, the corporate announcement requires that we be ever more vigilant and concerned for public safety. We must keep focus on the imminent public safety threat Pilgrim continues to present. Even the Entergy workers have admitted to difficulty keeping up with maintenance on the aged and degraded reactor. Also, as a result of the notice, experienced workers will seek alternative employment, which causes more concern. The serious core safety issues persist as remaining staff are stressed and stretched.

We are certainly living in dangerous times. Over the past years, the NRC has identified multiple safety violations, many of which have contributed to emergency shutdowns due to poor maintenance, aging equipment and lack of mitigation of identified problems. Pilgrim has now been designated the least safe nuclear reactor in the country. With this dangerous downward trend, the NRC is necessarily mandated to shut Pilgrim down now. What are the regulators waiting for?

Public safety must be the priority, particularly given that Entergy is not investing capital into maintenance and repairs as the NRC documents in yet another failure assessment. As a member of the Senate committee which oversees the NRC, Senator Markey recently addressed the implications of the unstable economic status of Entergy related to the ongoing operation of Pilgrim. There is a “linkage between financial viability of a corporation and the investment they make in safety. It is pretty clear here it is an issue that has to be answered, and soon.” Senator Markey has challenged the NRC to provide information, with no success and no answers. Will Entergy make the $100 million repairs while it loses $40 million a year?

This alarming situation was being addressed by Congressman Keating when he stated, “Entergy’s shutdown announcement was not surprising given their unwillingness to deal with current safety standards. Great scrutiny is necessary to make sure Entergy is responsible for maintaining proper safety standards throughout the closure process, something they failed to do during their operations.” That recognized failed safety status continues today and will remain until the plug is pulled. Federal scrutiny has made little difference in Entergy’s response to failure assessments. “Unwillingness to deal with current safety standards” suggests there is little effort by Entergy to make repairs and upgrades while lack of enforcement of those standards puts us in a perilous state.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation recently sent a powerful letter to NRC Chairman Stephen Burns requesting "utmost attention to safety and security and that the reactors’ operations are adequately funded by Entergy." Their letter includes important issues of decommissioning, moving the dangerous spent fuel into dry casks and maintaining emergency planning when Pilgrim is shut. This statement is also a recognition of the extreme danger to the public from the continued operation of Pilgrim. Yet, how can we expect that Entergy will operate safely when there is clear evidence of consistent noncompliance to regulatory safety standards?

One more scram or emergency shutdown will be another serious threat to our communities and an inexcusable sign of failure of our government to do right by the people.

Pilgrim’s NRC safety rating is ranked at the very bottom of the list of the 99 operating nuclear reactors in the country. We need bold leadership. Our elected representatives must uphold their responsibility to protect the public and demand immediate closing. Please contact Governor Baker, Senator Markey, Senator Warren and Congressman Keating to call for the closure of Pilgrim now, not in 2019.