PLYMOUTH - The agency that oversees operation of the nation's fleet of nuclear reactors has refused to discuss with Plymouth officials, or the public, a federal inspector's recent characterization of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station as "overwhelmed."
Plymouth selectmen had demanded a representative from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission attend Tuesday's meeting to explain an email in which Donald Jackson, the leader of a 20-member inspection team scouring systems and staff performance at Pilgrim, called the staff overwhelmed, equipment in poor repair and engineers lacking in knowledge. He also noted a general inability there to comply with standard industry procedure.
The email, containing initial observations made during the first week of a three-week inspection, was meant to remain in-house but was mistakenly forwarded to Pilgrim watchdog Diane Turco, who provided it to the Times.
Instead of acquiescing to the Plymouth selectmen's demand for a face-to-face discussion, NRC Regional Administrator Daniel Dorman sent board Chairman Kenneth Tavares a letter late Tuesday afternoon, apologizing for the inadvertent leak of the email and any public consternation it may have caused. But Dorman said the agency would not meet with selectmen or the public until the inspection at Pilgrim had been completed and the final report written.
The three-week special inspection is part of the increased federal oversight of Pilgrim, based on its classification as one of the three worst performers in the country. Pilgrim is slated to permanently shut down in mid-2019.
Inspectors were at Pilgrim from Nov. 28 to Dec. 9. They will return Jan. 9 for a third week.
The final report is expected to be released sometime in February.
Tavares was frustrated with the regional administrator's refusal to address the contents of the email sooner, leaving the public and local officials grappling with several concerns and getting no answers.
"When I read the letter, I still had the same questions I did last week," the selectmen chairman told his colleagues after reading Dorman's letter aloud during Tuesday's meeting.
"In the email, it stated there was a lot of positive attitude, but no one seems to know what they're doing," Tavares said of Jackson's observations at Pilgrim. "That's still as alarming to me as it was a week ago."
Plymouth resident Edward Russell attended Tuesday's selectmen's meeting but left before the 10 p.m. discussion of the letter. Russell told the Times he was glad the email had become public, since it provided "candid comment" on the plant. If it hadn't been released, the public may never have been aware of the inspection team's concerns, he said, since those may never make it into the final report. "I worry sometimes that things get laundered ," Russell said.
Love Albrecht Howard, a resident of south Plymouth, prepared a written statement for the board regarding the released email. "We got an unvarnished look at what the NRC inspection team leader really thinks," Howard wrote. "No spin. Nothing sanitized. And now we have clear evidence that Pilgrim is operating under far less than safe conditions."
In his letter, Dorman characterized the contents of Jackson's email as preliminary observations by inspectors. Pilgrim was safe, Dorman wrote. If the NRC determined at some point that the plant wasn't safe, it would take appropriate action, right up to ordering the reactor shut down, he wrote.
Tavares and his fellow selectmen plan to continue to press for answers. They have contacted town's state and federal legislative delegation to apply pressure on the NRC.
And when inspectors return to Pilgrim Jan. 9, "we need to get them here," Tavares said.
"We are elected officials responsible for the life and safety of this community. "To use an old Naval expression, 'it's time for all hands on deck.'"
- Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.
Editor's note: The original version of this story contained incorrect information about the time frame for recent inspections at Pilgrim. The story has been corrected.