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Cape Cod group hires Boston law firm to fight discharge of Pilgrim's radioactive water

Jennette Barnes
Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, left, spoke at a meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel in this Nov. 2022 file photo. Gottlieb said Tuesday that the Association to Preserve Cape Cod has retained a law firm to fight the release of radioactive water from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

CAI has learned that the Association to Preserve Cape Cod has hired a Boston law firm to try to block the discharge of radioactive water from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

The association will be ready to go to court, if necessary, before Pilgrim owner Holtec International is finished using the water, according to Executive Director Andrew Gottlieb.

“The use of the bay as a dumping ground for Holtec’s wastewater problem is a grossly inappropriate use of public resources and patently illegal,” he said.

Attorneys Lisa Goodheart and Dylan Sanders are advising the group and will represent the association if the matter goes to court. They specialize in energy and environmental law with Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen.

Holtec is looking for ways to dispose of water once used to cool nuclear fuel. The company is decommissioning the plant, which shut down in 2019.

The association has received a grant to support the hiring of legal counsel. The foundation does not want its name or the amount disclosed, but the funding is “substantial,” Gottlieb said.

“This is a top-priority, existential issue for everybody on the Cape,” he said. “And we are in this thing for the long haul. They're not going to bleed us dry.”

Holtec representative David Noyes revealed at a public meeting last month that the company plans to file for modifications to state and federal water-discharge permits. Doing so would be a step toward discharge of the water into Cape Cod Bay.

The company has said it will likely use multiple methods to dispose of the water, including discharge, evaporation, trucking out of state for storage, and, if necessary, storage at Pilgrim.

The timing of a potential release of radioactive water is uncertain.

The company indicated in a slide presentation last month that it will need to use at least some of the water in the plant during the second quarter of next year.

The water shields workers from radiation as they disassemble the reactor.

Gottlieb said if his organization goes to court, the argument will likely focus on the content of Pilgrim’s permits, rather than the science of nuclear safety. Debating whether Pilgrim’s water is above or below scientific standards for discharge is not the legal issue right now, he said.

“It’s not an authorized discharge (in the permits),” he said. “Therefore, it's illegal.”

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.