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Activists will still fight to expand radius to include Cape

Every plant that has shut down to date has asked to eliminate the emergency planning zone, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan says. By Christine Legere

Posted Oct. 14, 2015 at 7:42 PM 

PLYMOUTH — A bill sponsored by state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, would expand the emergency planning zone around Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to a 50-mile radius, which would encompass the Cape and Islands — something the Cape has sought for years.

But now that the Entergy-owned plant is slated for shutdown sometime before June 2019, that zone could be shrinking below even the federally required 10-mile radius rather than expanding.

Communities that fall within the 10-mile emergency planning zone are provided with evacuation plans in case of an emergency, money for public education and regular training for emergency personnel so they are ready should a radiological event occur. They also are equipped with emergency items such as sirens and radio equipment.

Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the request to get rid of the emergency zone around plants that have shut down is not unusual, even when radioactive spent fuel remains stored in pools rather than in massive dry casks, which are considered safer.

In fact, every plant that has shut down to date has asked to eliminate the emergency planning zone, Sheehan said.

Spent fuel pools, where many nuclear plants store fuel rods once they are removed from reactors, are 40 feet deep and equipped with metal racks to hold bundles of spent radioactive fuel. “They’re in the bottom of the pool, which is lined with thick concrete and then stainless steel,” Sheehan said. If there were an accident that resulted in the rods burning in the pool, it would be “a very slow, unfolding event compared to an active reactor.”

At Pilgrim, more than 3,000 spent fuel rods are stored in a spent fuel pool. Another 200 rods were moved into dry casks in the spring because the pool had reached capacity.

To date, the NRC has allowed Crystal River 3 in Florida, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, San Onofre in California and Maine Yankee — all shut down — to eliminate emergency zones around their plants.


Several activist groups, including the Cape Downwinders, will rally on the Statehouse steps Oct. 22 in support of Peake’s proposal to expand the zone as well as other Pilgrim-related legislation.

“The spent fuel rods are in a pool densely packed and tightly racked,” Diane Turco, founder of the Cape Downwinders, said. “The big question is whether the public is still at risk once the plant closes. The answer is yes. We’re looking out for the future.”

Peake said she is moving forward with the planning zone expansion bill as well as a proposal to increase real-time air monitoring around the plant.

“I think radiation monitoring is more important than ever, and it’s the same for the 50-mile radius,” she said. “It’s not like you can flip a light switch and shut everything down and put up a playground there. It continues to be a nuclear waste site, and there may even be less experienced workers there as current employees leave.”

— Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.


Entergy Corp. already has put in a request for an emergency planning exemption for its Vermont Yankee plant, which shut down in December. 

“Changes to plant-specific emergency plans are allowed for plants in decommissioning commensurate with changes in the risks of events since the plant is no longer operating,” Entergy spokeswoman Lauren Burm wrote in an email. 

Entergy is currently supplying $2.6 million in training and equipment to communities in the emergency planning zone around Vermont Yankee.

David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said federal regulators should tie a cutback in emergency and safety measures to specific milestones in the closure process. “Like plants that have offloaded all spent fuel into dry storage,” Lochbaum said. “If something happens then, the radioactive cloud would be pretty small.”

Deb Katz, executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network, who is also involved with Vermont Yankee watchdog groups, agreed with Lochbaum. “As long as high-level waste is suspended seven stories up in the air, the issue of alerts and an emergency management plan should all remain in place,” Katz said. “There’s 530 tons of high-level waste at Vermont Yankee.” The fuel is scheduled to be transferred to dry casks by 2020.

Meanwhile, citizens groups opposed to Pilgrim are making it clear they want the zone expanded, not eliminated.

“There’s no justification to limiting it to 10 miles," Mary Lampert, founder of Pilgrim Watch, said. “Some people say now they have agreed to shut down, the zone isn’t needed. But that’s all the more reason to have it.”


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