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Conservation Law Foundation: Pilgrim's radioactive water should be sent to specialized storage

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The Conservation Law Foundation is calling on the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to commit not to release radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay.

A New England conservation group is calling on the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, Holtec, to commit not to release radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay.

The Conservation Law Foundation, or CLF, outlined its position Wednesday in a letter to Holtec and two federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The group opposes sending the water into the bay for a host of reasons, including protection of human health, endangered North Atlantic right whales, and the overall ecosystem — plus tourism and fishing concerns.

Heather Govern, a CLF vice president, said placing nuclear waste into long-term storage would eliminate immediate concerns for the ecosystem.

“Storage solves some of those problems,” she said. “Does it solve all the problems? Definitely not. But it is the better solution, here, for the environment.”

The closed plant holds about a million gallons of wastewater containing radioactive isotopes. The water would be treated before release, but treatment would not remove all of the radiation.

Citizen groups from Cape Cod and the South Shore have organized to fight the release of the water, drawing the attention of, among others, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, who held a Senate subcommittee hearing on the issue in Plymouth last month.

At the hearing, Holtec CEO Kris Singh said the company would not discharge water into the bay “unless we have major stakeholder concurrence.”

He said those stakeholders include the state, the EPA and Markey.

But Singh seemed to qualify that pledge in a subsequent letter to Markey, in which he said Holtec would refrain from releasing the water “until the processed water discharge is confirmed by your expert’s determination to contain radiological levels low enough to ensure that the local marine life remains protected.”

Govern said that’s not enough.

“Even if we've got one environmental expert claiming that the effects will not be as harmful as some activists and advocates are saying, when you've got that question … it's just unacceptable to be sending that waste, that radioactive waste, into the bay,” she said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said Holtec’s past releases have met federal standards, and that as long as a future release meets those standards, the company would not need any further permission from the NRC to move forward.

But Govern said Holtec would have to file for a waste permit with the EPA, and CLF plans to monitor any filings.

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.