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EPA warns Pilgrim Nuclear of jail time; company doubles down on refusal to delay water discharge

David Noyes, compliance manager at Holtec Decommissioning International, speaks at a meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel on Nov. 28, 2022.
Jennette Barnes
David Noyes, compliance manager at Holtec Decommissioning International, speaks at a meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel on Nov. 28, 2022.

The federal government is warning the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station that discharging radioactive water without notice, in violation of the Clean Water Act, could result in fines or jail time.

Reacting in an interview with CAI, a Holtec spokesman doubled down on some of the company's previous comments that spurred the government warning, saying Holtec will not make promises about the timing of a water release.

In a Dec. 5 letter, the enforcement division of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office said recent remarks by Holtec compliance manager David Noyes appear to contemplate intentional violation of the Clean Water Act.

Noyes was responding to questions at last week’s meeting of the state advisory panel on Pilgrim, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel. He said he couldn’t commit to zero discharges of water from the nuclear plant while permit modifications are pending.

Nor could he immediately commit to giving prior notice of water release.

"I'll have to get back to you," he said.

The EPA letter puts a finer point on warnings in the agency’s previous letters to Holtec. It says the New England office has already given the company written notice that discharge of pollutants in water in the spent-fuel pool, dryer/separator pit, torus, or reactor cavity is not authorized under the company’s current water-discharge permit.

“Such unauthorized discharges would be a violation of the [Clean Water] Act and could subject the Company and its agents to the full array of enforcement authority that Congress has granted to EPA,” wrote James Chow, deputy director of the agency’s enforcement division for New England.

“Anyone who knowingly violates Section 308 the Act, or who knowingly submits false material statements or representations in documents or reports required under the Act is subject to criminal fines, imprisonment or both,” he wrote.

In response, Holtec has reaffirmed that it will make no promises with regard to the timing of discharge.

In an interview Wednesday with CAI, Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien said the company would comply with the EPA's request for 90 days’ notice, but it wouldn’t make promises about when the release would happen.

“That's a legal question that I think will end up as a legal matter,” he said. “I would hesitate to say there's no allowable path [to discharge] because I think there would be a thought process, with potential legal action, to discuss this issue.”

But O’Brien said Holtec would not do anything illegal.

“We're going to be open and transparent,” he said. “We would never do something willfully illegal, and I'll leave it at that.”

Chow addressed his letter to Kelly Trice, president of Holtec Decommissioning International, a wholly owned subsidiary of Holtec International handling the Pilgrim decommissioning.

The reactor at Pilgrim was shut down in 2019.

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.