BOSTON – Federal nuclear energy regulators are prepared to approve the sale and license transfer of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth to a company that intends to conduct an “accelerated decommissioning” of the now-shuttered plant.
Entergy, which bought Pilgrim from Boston Edison in 1999, is seeking to sell the plant to Holtec International. In past filings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Holtec laid out the process its subsidiary would use to decommission the power plant and said that it could “complete the dismantling, decontamination, and remediation of Pilgrim to NRC standards within eight years of license transfer, or by the end of 2027, assuming timely regulatory approvals.”
The plant, which employed about 600 people and generated about 680 megawatts of electricity since coming online in 1972, permanently ceased operations May 31.
The NRC has been reviewing the proposed sale and license transfers since last summer and on Tuesday, staff at the NRC informed commissioners that the agency “staff intends to issue an order approving the direct transfer of control of” Pilgrim on or around Aug. 21.
“The NRC staff has concluded that Holtec and HDI are financially and technically qualified to own the Pilgrim nuclear power plant and carry out the decommissioning of the facility,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “Prior to reaching this decision, the NRC staff carefully reviewed: Holtec and HDI’s technical and financial qualifications; the adequacy of the plant’s decommissioning trust fund; and the companies’ ability to obtain the funds necessary to cover the cost of spent nuclear fuel management and on-site spent fuel storage until it is removed.”
The NRC said its staff will wait five business days before taking formal action “to allow the Commission an opportunity to provide direction to the staff” and that the notice of intent does not supersede the requests for public hearings filed by Attorney General Maura Healey and the Baker administration, and Pilgrim Watch. It also does not preclude the NRC from requiring modification of the conditions for the license transfer.
Since February, Healey and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs have been asking the NRC to schedule an adjudicatory hearing on the sale of the plant. The petition argues that Entergy Corp. and Holtec have not demonstrated that the plant’s Decommissioning Trust Fund has a balance adequate to cover all the costs associated with decommissioning the plant and the long-term managing of spent fuel, which could lead to health and safety problems.
“This is a matter of not just dollars and what the taxpayers may be left holding in terms of the bag and responsibility to foot the bill for cleanup, but it’s public safety,” Healey said in June on WGBH with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
“We just need to demand that the NRC does its job and takes proper accounting of the situation here and funding is really important,” she added. “I’m concerned that we don’t have the adequate funding to get this done.”
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey slammed the NRC’s decision to move forward with the license transfer and sale.
“Too many questions remain and too few answers have been provided to the Commonwealth and to local residents about the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant,” Markey said in a statement. “From financing to emergency response planning, we have asked for answers and we have received only unacceptable silence. More hearings and opportunities for public input are needed to resolve critical outstanding questions — until that happens, this license transfer should not be approved.”
If the sale and license transfer applications are approved, Holtec plans to transfer fuel from Pilgrim between 2019 and 2021 and restore the site to meet NRC requirements by 2027. Activity would continue at the spent fuel storage installation until 2062 or 2063, and the Pilgrim site would be fully restored by 2064, according to the company’s filings.
In the weeks following its shutdown, Pilgrim removed all fuel from its reactor. The NRC informed Pilgrim that its future oversight will be led by its Division of Nuclear Materials Safety “in accordance with our decommissioning power reactor inspection program.”
“The objectives of the decommissioning inspection program are to verify that decommissioning activities are being conducted safely, that spent fuel is safely being stored, and that site operations and license termination activities are in conformance with applicable regulatory requirements, license commitments, and management controls,” the NRC wrote to Pilgrim’s owners at Entergy in June.