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1M gallons of radioactive water from Plymouth nuclear plant could be discharged into Cape Cod Bay

11-22-21 NDCAP 6 - dry cask loading at Pilgrim - NRC photo.JPG
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Workers load a dry cask with spent nuclear fuel at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.

A million gallons of radioactive water could be discharged into Cape Cod Bay from the closed nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

The owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, Holtec International, plans to remove the water from the reactor vessel and spent-fuel pool, according to Seth Pickering of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Pickering is a member of the state advisory panel reviewing the decommissioning of the power plant, and he spoke Monday during the panel’s regular meeting.

“Holtec has indicated that if it does discharge the radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay, it will be done in batches of approximately 20,000 gallons each,” he said.

The company holds a permit for discharge of water into the bay.

The permit bars Holtec from discharging common water pollutants but has no control over radioactive material, because radioactive substances are excluded from the definition of “pollutant” under the Clean Water Act, Pickering said.

Instead, they are controlled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The company would have to submit a formal dewatering plan for state and federal review, he said.

John Moylan, site vice president for Holtec, said discharge into the bay is one of several disposal options the company is considering.

Holtec representatives wouldn’t say which options are most likely; other disposal methods include storage, trucking to another location, and evaporation.

Work to remove components from under the water will continue until at least the fall of next year, Moylan said, “and at that point, the site will make a decision on disposition of that water. And we have many paths and processes we can invoke. We haven't finalized that yet.”

Meanwhile, 70 employees at the power station will lose their jobs come Jan. 1. The staff reduction is part of the ongoing decommissioning of the Plymouth plant, which closed in 2019.

Holtec held a job fair last week to try to help those who don’t plan to retire.

By Dec. 10, the company expects to finish removing used nuclear fuel assemblies from underwater storage and placing them in steel-reinforced concrete drums, known as casks. Each weighs 150 tons.

The fuel will remain on the Plymouth site indefinitely.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.