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Dumping of radioactive water would create an image problem for Massachusetts shellfish industry, growers say

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Oysters after a harvest. Local shellfish growers say the industry will suffer if the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station empties radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay.

Local shellfish growers say the industry will suffer if the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station dumps radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay — in large part because of public perception.

No matter what the actual risk is, the dumping will create an image problem, said Bob Rheault, an oceanographer by training and executive director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

“There's no evidence that irradiated water is going to have a contamination issue,” he said. “But that doesn't matter, because the consumer believes that the product is tainted, and they're going to stop eating it.”

He said local shellfish farms are mainly small businesses — especially in Massachusetts, where some towns limit growers to two or three acres.

Oysters, many of which are farmed in Cape Cod Bay, represent the state’s third-most valuable seafood harvest, behind sea scallops and lobsters.

Duxbury, Barnstable and Wellfleet are among the state’s major producers of farmed oysters.

Another industry group getting involved is the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association, which has more than 100 members.

Association coordinator Scott Soares said the group is asking for a guarantee that Pilgrim won’t discharge the water into the bay.

“Especially with the word ‘radioactive’ included in the phrase, whenever there's any suggestion of that, the very first thought that comes to mind is that you're going to be eating glowing shellfish,” he said.

The owner of the closed nuclear energy plant, Holtec, is looking for a way to get rid of about a million gallons of water, much of it from the pool used to cool spent nuclear fuel rods.

Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien has said the company is considering multiple options for disposal and won’t discharge any of the water until at least 2023.