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Pilgrim Opponents Look To State Officials For Solutions

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wgbh.org
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Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

Opponents of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station took their concerns to Boston recently, where they met with a Homeland Security official and key players from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Since the plant lost off-site power and experienced an unplanned shutdown in January’s blizzard, there have been renewed calls for a better evacuation plan for Cape Cod in the event of an emergency.

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The meeting itself was closed to the press, but State Representative Sarah Peake participated and said she was pleased that Massachusetts Homeland Security Undersecretary Kurt Schwartz was willing to listen.

“While Undersecretary Schwartz feels confident that a plan can be put in place to protect the health and safety of Cape Codders and the hundreds of thousands of visitors that we have, he cannot guarantee the lifetime environmental safety of the Cape or whatever area of the Commonwealth might be downwind if there is a discharge out of that very tall smokestack,” Peake said.

And that fact continues to be a major concern, especially given the events of last January.

“There was a request made that the plant be shut down prospectively, in other words, don’t wait for the power to go out when we know another big storm is coming our way,” Peake explained. “Undersecretary Schwartz said that that was something he took note of, something that in their emergency plans they’re going to look at.”

Schwartz maintained that Pilgrim’s operation was never compromised during the January shutdown. But Seth Rolbein, Chief of Staff to State Senator Dan Wolf, said the incident prompted a multi-tiered response nonetheless.

“There were concerns about the process, which resulted in both the State and the Federal government intervening – showing up at the plant to really look hard at that process,” said Rolbein. “There needs to be a more proactive approach to public safety, and an expanded definition of what public safety really means. Does public safety include environmental safety?”

Another key goal of the meeting was to get Governor Baker’s office more involved with the discussion over Pilgrim’s future. But Sarah Peake acknowledged that state officials have very little power, since regulatory control rests with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Well, the final say is with the NRC, and it is with the Federal government,” she said. “However, all of us have, at best, a bully pulpit. I have one, Senator Wolf’s is maybe a little bit bigger, and the Governor’s is bigger yet. And this is why, working with his administration, it’s so important to get him on board.”

Seth Rolbein says he hopes the meeting will be a springboard for further discussion.

“So there wasn’t, you know, like, a checklist that said, you know, in three days we’ll do this, and in three months we’ll do that. But we did get a promise from both agencies that we’ll follow up. And knowing Representative Peake, we’re gonna follow up,” Rolbein said.

Pilgrim is currently temporarily shutdown and undergoing maintenance as it is refueled. It’s not clear exactly when it will return to full power.