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Opponents decry proposed dumping of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station's radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay

Jennette Barnes
Diane Turco, director of Cape Downwinders, addresses the audience at Plymouth Town Hall Monday at a speak-out against the proposed dumping of radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay.

About 40 people gathered at Plymouth Town Hall last night for a speak-out against the proposed dumping of radioactive water from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station into Cape Cod Bay.

Another 100 joined by video conference.

Speakers representing the fishing industry, environmental groups and others decried a tentative plan by Holtec, the company decommissioning the plant, to discharge a million gallons of radioactive water. Holtec says it is considering other options as well.

“You said you would listen to the people in the communities, and what they wanted, and how they wanted this decommissioning to go,” said Diane Turco, director of the residents’ group Cape Downwinders. “And you are failing us right now because you have that plan in place. So we need you to stop it.”

Fishing interests said the dumping threatens to damage livelihoods and fragile marine species.

“Holtec should be ashamed to think that dumping a million gallons of toxic water is OK,” said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

Mark DeCristoforo, who leads the Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative, said allowing such dumping shows that the federal agency in charge — the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — isn’t doing enough.

“The NRC, that unelected bureaucracy responsible for regulating the nuclear industry, has been derelict in their duty to protect us,” he said. “No agency properly fulfilling their obligation to the people could ever acquiesce to this.”

Jennette Barnes
Mark DeCristoforo, executive director of the Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission isn't doing enough to protect the public from harm in the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

A roster of some 20 speakers who went to the podium included Mary and Jim Lampert of Pilgrim Watch; state Sen. Susan Moran; state Rep. Tami Gouveia, who is running for lieutenant governor; Suzanne Brock of the League of Women Voters of the Cape Cod Area; and Art Desloges of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

Technical problems delayed the playing of pre-recorded video statements from U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, but Turco eventually held a laptop up to a microphone so the audience could hear.

Keating refuted the idea that the discharge of water could be acceptable if it won’t expose anyone to more radiation than an X-ray.

“I think that argument fails on its face as well,” he said. “These type of X-ray diagnostics, they're there because that's the only alternative there is to find out if your health is in jeopardy.”

He said proponents of the dumping will argue that the amount of radiation isn’t significant.

“Of course it's substantive,” he said. “Just ask the fishing industry that’s represented here. Just ask the aquaculture industry that's here, the tourism industry that's here, and ask the people who recreate here, live here, and enjoy the quality of life here.”

Earlier this month, Nuclear Regulatory Commission health physicist Harold Anagnostopoulos told CAI that the dose of radiation a person would be likely to receive from Holtec’s dumping would be less than the dose from an airline flight from New York to Los Angeles.

But Keating and others rejected the idea that a small dose was justifiable.

In his video remarks, Markey said the community has worked together to stop Holtec from dumping the water in 2022, but postponing it isn’t enough. Trucking the water to an out-of-state facility, as was done in Vermont, should be considered, he said.

Suzanne Brock, president of the League of Women Voters of the Cape Cod Area, said trucking the water away would just pass the problem to someone else. It should be stored at Pilgrim until the government takes responsibility for nuclear waste, she said.

Jennette Barnes
State Sen. Susan Moran, right, and Beth Casoni of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, center, were among those who spoke against the dumping of radioactive water.

Melissa Ferretti, chairwoman of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, read an opening prayer and land acknowledgment. Later, she read a statement on behalf of Mahtowin Munro of United American Indians of New England opposing the dumping.

A member of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s staff joined the Zoom and read a statement from Warren saying she is disappointed in Holtec’s lack of transparency and opposes the discharge of water.

Following the speak-out, the state-appointed panel monitoring the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station held its regular meeting over Zoom.

During the public comment period, Betsy Smith of Brewster said she’s concerned about eating local shellfish if the dumping goes forward.

“Shellfish are in my neighborhood — not Duxbury oysters, but Dennis oysters and Brewster oysters and Wellfleet oysters. And I want to be able to continue to eat those oysters without worrying about them,” she said.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel is reviewing the evidence related to any potential effect on shellfish, said Pine duBois, the vice chair.

“If there is contamination in the oysters, we want to know, and everybody wants to know,” she said. “But if there is not, we don't want to say there is. And we need to have the science, and we need to have the proof.”

But the panel has no regulatory authority, she said. Its role is to learn and educate the public.

Holtec is considering three water-disposal options, according to company representative Dave Noyes: evaporation, trucking off-site, and discharge into Cape Cod Bay.

A slide shared by Holtec during the meeting indicated that “in all likelihood,” the company will use all three of those methods.

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.