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Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to pursue discharge of radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay

Jennette Barnes
Concerned residents hold signs opposing the release of water from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station into Cape Cod Bay. They attended a meeting Monday of the state's Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.

The owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station intends to pursue discharging water from the plant into Cape Cod Bay, a company representative said Thursday.

The water will be treated but is expected to contain at least one radionuclide: tritium.

David Noyes, who represents owner Holtec International on the state’s Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, told the group that Holtec plans to apply for modifications to its state and federal water-discharge permits.

“That modification, coupled with the essentially very high quality of the water, we believe will enable us to be able to … move forward with plans for discharge,” he said.

Whether regulators allow modification of the permits — as opposed to forcing Holtec to apply for new permits — could affect the water-quality standards Holtec has to meet.

Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, joined the state panel as a new member for the first time last night. He asked Holtec for a commitment not to discharge the water until the permit is resolved.

Noyes said he couldn’t make that commitment.

“I can't say that,” he said, prompting an audible gasp from some members of the audience.

It wasn’t clear if Noyes meant Holtec won’t make that commitment, or only that he wasn’t authorized to say.

Jennette Barnes
David Noyes represented Holtec, the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, at Monday's meeting.

A year ago, Holtec pledged not to discharge radioactive water in 2022. Now, that pledge is coming to an end with the calendar year.

Jack Priest, director of the radiation control program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said the state prefers Holtec not discharge the plant’s approximately one million gallons of water into the environment.

“It’s our preference to not release the water into Cape Cod Bay,” he said.

Holtec says the water can be treated and filtered to put radionuclides and non-radiological contaminants at safe levels.

In a Nov. 17 letter to members of the state congressional delegation, Holtec executive Kelly Trice said treated water from Pilgrim would be of equal or better quality compared to the existing water in Cape Cod Bay.

“We remain committed to safely decommissioning the site and will resolve this water matter within our permitted and licensed activities,” said Trice, president of Holtec Decommissioning International, a subsidiary of Holtec.

But tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, cannot be removed.

How much of a health risk tritium would represent if discharged from Pilgrim has been a matter of debate.

Local activists say any discharge of radioactive water into the bay is unacceptable.

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.