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Radioactive water at Pilgrim can't be filtered enough to make dumping legal, activist says

Pilgrim Aerial
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A longtime activist says radioactive water inside the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station probably can’t be filtered enough for legal discharge into Cape Cod Bay.

“No filter is perfect,” said James Lampert of Pilgrim Watch. “They will significantly reduce the level of pollutants, the level of minerals, but they will not get rid of them all.”

Pilgrim owner Holtec is looking for a way to dispose of about a million gallons of water as part of the decommissioning of the power plant. The water contains both nuclear and non-nuclear pollutants.

Holtec contends that it can filter out non-nuclear pollutants, and that the level of radioactivity will meet federal requirements.

The company released radioactive water from a plant it owns in New Jersey earlier this month.

But Lampert said the New Jersey plant’s pollutant-discharge permit is different from Pilgrim’s.

“They have a very different permit,” he said. “So far as I can tell, [it] probably did allow what was happening down there.”

He also said the legal settlement the state of Massachusetts has with Holtec is stronger than the one in New Jersey, which he called “extraordinarily limited.”

Residents are relying on support from Attorney General Maura Healey, he said.

Healey, who is running for governor, told CAI this summer that she believes the state’s settlement agreement with Holtec, combined with state and federal law, give the state the authority to stop the discharge of water.

“I’ll be damn sure, in whatever capacity I serve, that we’re not going to have radioactive waste dumped down here,” she said in an interview.

In a February letter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told Holtec that if the company plans to discharge water from Pilgrim, Holtec should provide the EPA with a full description of any pollutants in the water, so the agency can determine if the Clean Water Act applies.

If it does, Pilgrim may need a new or modified environmental permit to discharge water, the EPA said.

The letter also advised Holtec that “since such discharges are likely to be considered new and/or increased discharges from the facility,” they would be subject to review by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

But the Clean Water Act’s control of pollutants excludes radioactive materials, which are regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the EPA said in the letter.

A state panel on Pilgrim, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, will meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Plymouth Town Hall.

Holtec has said it plans to present the results of water testing.

The Save Our Bay coalition, which opposes release of radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay, is holding a rally at 5 p.m. on the green outside Town Hall.

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.