Officials Say Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Is Ready if a Hurricane Strikes

Aug 8, 2018

Credit NRC

WCAI has partnered with the Cape Cod Times to bring you the series, "Are we ready? Examining hurricane preparedness on Cape Cod and the Islands."

WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with some of the Cape Cod Times reporters on the series about what they learned in writing their stories for the series, including Christine Legere. She took a look at whether Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth can withstand a major storm.

 

Eident: Good morning Christine, thanks for chatting with us.

Legere: Hi Kathryn.

Eident: How prepared is Pilgrim if a storm strikes now while the plant is still operational?

Legere: Well, according to David Lochbaum, who's the director of the Nuclear Safety Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and who has often been a critic of Pilgrim, he said that the buildings that house the essential systems, the ones related to safety, are really solid. They are concrete and steel and they're not going anywhere, and they're not going to be damaged in any serious way because they're so robust.

And in the past, that's been shown with Hurricane Andrew back in 1992 where it went through a hurricane where it was directly hit and sustained pretty much no damage--a little minor flooding. The trouble with Pilgrim is is the generators have been one of the problems there, as well as the cooling systems. So, people on the other side of this, like Mary Lampert, always bring that up and say, "well their records or equipment maintenance could make conditions like a hurricane dangerous, where other plants have made it through by using that backup equipment."

Eident: Pilgrim is right on the water and they've got a lot of spent fuel rods in these things called dry casks. How safe are those, if there was any kind of flooding, or any other damage from a hurricane?

Legere: The casks have been tested. I use Dave Lochbaum a source quite a bit because he is just so knowledgeable; he worked in the industry, he worked for the NRC. He says casks at Fukushima were on ground level in a tin shed, basically. They were submerged andthey eventually drained. There was never any problem with them or radiation leakage of any kind--the water kept them cool, and then when they drained, then it just went back to working with just a little bit of seaweed there.

People like Pine duBois however, who's the Jones River Watershed Association executive director in Kingston, disagreeswith that. She feels that those vents could get plugged even in a major snowstorm, and then if they did the casks wouldn't work and the stuff could overheat.

Eident: Pilgrim, as we know, is set to such a shutdown next year. So, what would, if anything, change about their preparedness in a storm?

Legere: Well, I mean systems will be similar; they'll be slowly reducing the number of staff there. And, they say-- because once the reactor, which is the biggest danger, is shut down, the rods that are still cooling in the pools, and will be for a while, there will be about 3,000 spent fuel assemblies up in this pool that's at the top of the nuclear reactor building. If something did happen in a storm, they have about 10 hours to get water in the pool, and even if it boiled down, they can replenish it. That's their stand on it. And again, David Lochbaum did agree with that.

Eident: And that is Christine Legere, a reporter at the Cape Cod Times talking about preparedness for a hurricane Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant you can read more in her story that's available at Cape Cod Times.com. Christine, thanks so much for talking with us this morning.

Legere: Nice talking to you.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

See more from the Cape Cod Times here